October 29, 2013
This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch….Alaska clams can be deadly all year round. More after this —
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Two cases of paralytic shellfish poisoning were reported at Sitka last week, proving that the deadly toxin occurs in any season. PSP is caused by micro organisms in algae blooms, often incorrectly called’ red tides.’ It is in all kinds of clams. Neither cooking nor freezing neutralizes the toxin and it can be a quick killer.
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.
PSP is a tricky array of 24 different toxins he says, some deadly, some not,. Toxic levels can differ from one clam hole to another on the same beach, and change with the tide. PSP levels also can 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.
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.
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.
The State strictly monitors all commercially caught shellfish catches for PSP, but that’s not the case for clam diggers. The Alaska Department of Epidemiology says those folks are playing ‘Alaskan Roulette.”
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