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Annual Quarantine on Sport-Harvested Mussels

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May 29, 2009

This is a reminder that the California Department of Public Health (DPH) declared its annual quarantine on sport-harvested mussels for human consumption after testing detected elevated levels of domoic acid. The quarantine is usually in effect from May 1 to Oct. 31 along the entire California coast, and is issued to prevent paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and domoic acid poisoning due to marine biotoxins that accumulate in these shellfish. The quarantine applies only to sport-harvested mussels; however, consumers of sport-harvested clams or scallops are advised to only eat the white meat and discard the viscera before cooking.

“Shellfish harvested by state-certified shellfish growers and sold commercially in markets should pose no risk of poisoning to consumers,” said Jack Miller, Acting Director for the Department of Environmental Health. “Certain shellfish may be poisonous during warmer months, since they eat a single-celled organism, Alexandrium catenella, which can multiply rapidly in warmer water.”

If these shellfish are eaten during the quarantine, they may contain a toxin that can affect the nervous system of humans within a few minutes to a few hours. Symptoms include tingling around the mouth and fingertips. In cases of severe poisoning, death may occur. There is no known cure; however, appropriate medical care has been proven effective in managing the symptoms of PSP and should be sought immediately if one suspects PSP.

“Poisonous mussels look the same as harmless ones. The toxin is heat stable and cannot be destroyed by cooking,” said Miller.

DPH coordinates a year-round shellfish sampling and testing program. Updated information about shellfish toxin findings and quarantines is available by calling the DPH Shellfish Information line at (800) 553-4133.

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