An error in a magazine story has prompted state officials to issue a reminder that cockles and other seafood may contain toxins throughout the year that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning, a potentially fatal disease.
According to the state departments of Health and Social Services and Environmental Conversation, “Hunting the Mighty Cockle,” an article in the current December/January issue of Alaska magazine, wrongly claims that there are “safe” months to harvest cockles in which they’re free of PSP toxins.
“The DHSS Section of Epidemiology has received reports of Alaskans with PSP during every month of the year; there are no “safe” months,” DEC said in a statement on the article. “In fact, pre-harvest testing by the Department of Environmental Conservation of commercial shellfish, sampled this week from Southeast Alaska, revealed toxic levels over four times what is considered safe for human consumption.”
Early signs of PSP include tingling sensations in the lips and tongue which spread to fingers and toes. As symptoms worsen, victims may lose control of their limbs and experience difficulty breathing, with death possible in two hours.
State officials stress that it’s impossible to visually determine whether beaches are PSP-free, since clear water can be highly contaminated. Clams, mussels, oysters, geoducks and scallops can all contain toxins even after an algae bloom; crab meat usually doesn’t contain toxins, but crab guts may be contaminated and should be thrown away.
An exception to the state’s concerns is commercially grown shellfish, which is considered generally safe for human consumption.
More information on PSP and its effects is available on DEC’s website.
Contact Chris Klint