Northwest Fisheries Science Center


Staff Directory


Outreach collage imageThe human health risk of marine biotoxin exposure is significant. Because of this, fishing and shellfishing activities are closely monitored by health officials so that the risk is reduced to a minimum. When considering the number of meals and millions of pounds of seafood consumed each day from commercial sources (restaurants and markets), the incidences of foodborne illness due to toxic seafood is extremely low. This is due to the fact that local and national government agencies are providing monitoring and surveillance programs to ensure that before seafoods are marketed for sale, they are tested thoroughly for various marine biotoxins.

Since few people are poisoned by commercial seafoods, many recreational fishers think that all fish and shellfish taken from apparent clean waters and beaches are safe to eat immediately. This thought is particularly tempting when fishers visit far and remote sites where there is no visible evidence of human habitation. Additionally, by their nature, recreational fishing sites far outnumber commercial fishing areas. These circumstances, plus constrained funding and resources, substantially reduce the abilities of local, state, and federal agencies from adequately monitoring many remote areas. In some states, such as Alaska, virtually all beaches are closed permanently to the recreational digging of shellfish. Areas remain closed until opened by the state authorities before digging is permitted.

Here we provide information to recreational fishers about marine biotoxin and HAB risks. A little bit of knowledge about the sources and origins of biotoxins can go a long way to reduce the chances of illness or fatalities from recreationally collected fish and shellfish. For example, in many places Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning or PSP shows seasonal and geographic trends. Knowing where and when to dig shellfish can substantially reduce the chances of illness. To help communicate some of this information, we have made available several publications suitable for the general public discussing the origins and occurrences of HABs and biotoxins.

An important caveat! These publications are NOT a substitute for getting current information from local risk management agencies as to closures or warnings. In these publications, we also provide “hotline” telephone numbers for the west coast states and British Columbia. Additionally, in our links section, we provide, where available, links to local and state web pages that have current information about beach and water closures. However, be aware that phone numbers, web pages, and programs undergo changes. It is the recreational fisher’s responsibility to seek out accurate information about local conditions concerning the safety of personally caught or dug seafoods.