‘Potentially lethal’ toxins found in Juneau shellfish

A low tide leaves shellfish exposed on a beach near Juneau. Nov. 17, 2018.
A low tide leaves shellfish exposed on a beach north of Juneau. (Photo by Ryan Cunningham/KTOO)

A group that monitors shellfish toxin levels is warning Juneauites not to consume shellfish from some locations in the Auke Bay area and beyond.

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska has issued a public notice of a shellfish advisory for areas near Amalga Harbor, Point Louisa and the Auke Recreation Area.

According to the notice, recently-collected samples of blue mussels, cockle clam and butter clam from those locations had “extremely elevated levels” of harmful toxins — well above federal Food and Drug Administration limits for consumption.

Kari Lanphier, environmental lab manager for the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, said her lab hasn’t seen shellfish toxin levels this high in Juneau since they started operating three years ago.

“Once we start to see levels of paralytic shellfish toxins reach in these ranges that we’re seeing in Juneau … it’s pretty dangerous. Those are levels that could be potentially lethal if ingested,” she said.

Lanphier said most of the Auke Bay samples were collected on June 4. Because of the unusually high toxin levels, her lab’s partners at Tlingit & Haida will collect a new round of blue mussel samples on Thursday.

According to the Alaska Division of Public Health, early symptoms of shellfish poisoning include tingling feelings in the lips and tongue, followed by tingling and loss of muscle control in the arms and legs. Within a couple hours, a poisoning victim could stop breathing.

Shellfish become toxic when they’re contaminated by harmful algae blooms. Some toxins can be up to 1,000 times stronger than cyanide.

If you think you’ve consumed toxic shellfish, seek immediate medical attention. Any potential poisonings should also be reported to the state’s Section of Epidemiology by calling 907-269-8000 or 800-478-0084 if the call is after regular office hours.

For general information about shellfish toxins, visit SEATOR.org or contact Tlingit & Haida.

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