Samish Bay harvesters face uncertain future after toxins found in shellfish

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SKAGIT COUNTY, Wash. -- The owner of Blau Oyster near Samish Bay grows his own oysters, harvests them and supplies it to customers and restaurants.

“It’s a little hard because I just took over this company,” owner Gerardo Rodarte said. “It’s a big responsibility.”

The health department stopped commercial shellfish operations in the water just several days ago after mussels, scallops, clams and oysters came back with toxic levels of algae poisoning.

“I know a lot of people like warm temperatures,” Rodarte said. “For us, it’s not good.”

An infected oyster taken as a sample came back at a level 50 times higher than normal.

“If somebody ate that oyster, he can get really sick, and he can be in the hospital,” Rodarte said.

A warning sign greets visitors at a park on Samish Island, and recreational harvesting was banned at the end of July.

In a statement, the health department says, “PSP and other naturally occurring biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing...shellfish sold in restaurants and markets have been tested before distribution and are safe to eat.”

“You know we’re just not having it in our diet right now,” said Terry Rousseau, who runs Alice Bay on Samish Island. “Only crab and salmon and other things this time of the year we harvest.”

Commercial shellfish harvesters are hoping the toxic algae will clear up from Samish Bay in a few weeks.

You can check the DOH website at http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/biotoxin.htm  or call the DOH Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Washington State.

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