Fish Radio 
May 22, 2013                                  Alaska Roulette – Clam digging can be deadly in Alaska

Geoduck clams, Southeast Alaska Credit: ADF&G

Geoduck clams, Southeast Alaska
Credit: ADF&G

  This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch….Clam diggers should be aware of  shellfish toxins. I’ll tell you  more after this – 

 Northrim Bank has money to loan and experts to help. Contact Zac Hays and visit   Northrim Bank, Member FDIC, Equal Opportunity Lender

  Check out ASMI’s new web store! Find mugs, t shirts, beanies and more at 

 It’s that time of year when lots of clam diggers head to sand flats. Be sure and pay attention to shellfish advisories, like for PSP.  Paralytic shellfish poisoning  is caused by tiny marine organisms in algae blooms often referred to incorrectly as red tides. PSP is commonly found in all kinds of clams. Neither cooking nor freezing neutralizes the toxin, which attacks the nervous system and can be a quick killer.

 Cut: 12 It’s deadly. A thousand times more toxic than strychnine. It’s a neurotoxin so it effects the nervous transmission, which is why they call it PSP toxin. Often starts out with a tingling around the face and extremities, the hands. Then it works its way through a number of symptoms, blurred vision, double vision, nausea, ultimately paralysis and cardiac arrest. Death is very quick.

 Ray RaLonde is an aquaculture specialist with the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program. He says PSP is a tricky array of 24 different toxins, some deadly, some not. Toxic levels can differ from one clam hole to another on the same beach, and change with the tide.  RaLonde says PSP levels also differ between popular clams.    

 The two most likely to be confused are littleneck clams, called steamers, and butter clams. Both about the same size. So it’s important to be aware of the differences between the two. Littleneck clam is relatively non toxic compared to a butter clam, which can retain the toxin for two years, so you can get toxicity off season. Both can be dug in the same hole in the tide flats. Butter clams tend to be a little deeper.

 No one is sure why, but Kodiak Island and along the South Peninsula have some of the highest PSP levels in the world.

 Cut: 07 It’s really quite intense, the PSP  blooms on occasion. In one incident the level on blue mussels reached 20,000 micrograms. The FDA level is 80 micrograms.  So 20 thousand is very lethal.

 Some clam diggers test for PSP with their tongues. If it tingles, it’s not safe. But RaLonde warns from tongue to tummy, toxicity can increase six fold.

 Cut: 10 To put that in perspective, at 20-thousand micrograms I tell people if you eat a blue mussel your life is worth 11 cents. A dime and a penny worth of mussel weight and you just got a lethal dose.

 RaLonde says another nasty toxin is making its way up the west coast – Domoic acid.

 Cut: 16 At high levels it can be lethal. At moderate doses a strange thing happens. You get permanent loss of short term memory.

 Alaska strictly regulates all shellfish testing.  But play it safe out on those clam flats.    

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods.  Ocean Beauty has contributed over 10 million meals to the U.S. Food Bank network, and is committed to ending hunger in America.   In Kodiak,