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Updates to shellfish map helps public identify safer harvesting sites

BCCDC says to take precautions if you are harvesting shellfish in B.C. waters this summer.
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The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is warning shellfish harvesters to check the Shellfish Harvesting map before digging for clams, or collecting mussels and other shellfish to prevent serious illness.

Shellfish harvesting is a popular leisure activity in British Columbia, but harvesting in closed sites poses serious health risks. Fisheries and Oceans Canada closes areas to harvesting shellfish when there are toxins or bacteria present that can cause serious illness if eaten.

To help identify safe harvesting sites, the BCCDC has updated the Shellfish Harvesting Status Map with new and improved features that will assist the public in finding safer harvesting sites. 

The updated map provides information on:
  • Near real-time updates on biotoxin and sanitary conditions in shellfish harvesting areas
  • Where to find open sites to harvest clams and other shellfish
  • Where to find sewage pump out services for boats
  • Locations of parks, aquaculture sites, and outfalls
  • A shellfish dictionary to help harvesters identify different types of shellfish
  • Sea surface temperatures in shellfish harvesting areas
Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) is a life-threatening condition caused by eating shellfish like clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, and sometimes crabs that have been contaminated with toxins during algae blooms. Toxins that cause PSP, amnesic shellfish poisonings, and diarrheal shellfish poisoning cannot be eliminated by cooking. Nor will contaminated shellfish look or smell spoiled. 

In the last three years, the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre (DPIC) has received calls on nine separate PSP incidents affecting 15 individuals. All 15 who fell ill experienced tingling, either in the lips and mouth area, or in their hands after eating contaminated shellfish. Eighty per cent of the cases were significant enough to require treatment in a hospital emergency department.

In the summer months, Vibrio parahaemolyticus illnesses are a concern for self-harvested shellfish because the naturally occurring Vibrio bacteria found in the ocean are present in higher concentrations during the summer when water temperatures are warmer. 

To reduce the risk of shellfish-related illness, take these safety precautions:

When self-harvesting
  • Check if a shellfish area is open before harvesting.  Visit the BCCDC Shellfish Harvesting Status Map to find open and closed sites. 
  • Harvest on a receding tide when the tide is going out.
  • Once you’ve harvested your shellfish, put them into a chilled cooler and keep them cold to prevent bacteria from growing.
When preparing
  • Consume only cooked shellfish. Cooking will destroy viruses and bacteria and decrease the risk of gastrointestinal illness. To ensure adequate cooking, test shellfish with a probe thermometer and make sure the temperature reaches 90°C for 90 seconds.  
  • Do not cook crabs whole.  Split them first and remove gut contents before boiling.  This will prevent toxins that may be present from contaminating the muscle flesh.  
  • Keep cooking areas clean.  Separate raw and cooked seafood to prevent cross-contamination and clean and sanitize knives and cutting boards.  Wash hands frequently. 
Anyone becoming ill with diarrhea and vomiting after eating shellfish should call DPIC immediately at 1-800-567-8911 or the nurse line at 811. If the person has trouble breathing or symptoms persist or become severe, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.  

Because shellfish feed by filtering ocean water, it is important to remind boaters to dump their tanks in appropriate sewage pump out locations, and not near shore in parks or shellfish areas. These locations can also be found on the updated BCCDC Shellfish Harvesting Status Map. Keeping our oceans clean helps prevent contamination of marine life and maintain a healthy aquaculture. 

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