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California Department of Public Health

Annual Quarantine Issued on Sport-Harvested Mussels

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April 30, 2008

Beginning tomorrow, May 1, the California Department of Public Health (DPH) will issue its annual quarantine on sport-harvested mussels. The quarantine is in effect from May 1 to October 31 along the entire California Coast, and is issued to prevent paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and domoic acid poisoning due to marine toxins that accumulate in these shellfish. The quarantine applies only to sport-harvested shellfish such as mussels, scallops, oysters and clams. People are advised to eat only the white meat and discard all dark parts before cooking. Shellfish harvested by state-certified shellfish growers and sold commercially in markets should be safe to consume.

“Poisonous mussels look the same as harmless ones. The toxin cannot be destroyed by cooking since it’s relatively heat resistant, which is why you have to be really careful,” said Gary Erbeck, Director of the County Department of Environmental Health (DEH).

Erbeck said that warning signs will be posted around local fishing piers and San Diego Bay.

If local shellfish are eaten during the quarantine, they may contain a toxin that affects the nervous system of people within a few minutes to a few hours. Symptoms include tingling around the mouth and fingertips, followed by disturbed balance, lack of muscular coordination, slurred speech and difficulty swallowing. In cases of severe poisoning, death may occur. There is no known cure; however, if you are experiencing symptoms of PSP, you should seek medical attention immediately.

DPH coordinates year-round shellfish sampling and testing. Information about shellfish toxin findings and quarantines can be obtained by calling (800) 553-4133.