Recreational Shellfish - Pilot Program
Alaskans harvest shellfish for personal use year-round on hundreds of beaches across the state. Shellfish are an important traditional subsistence food source and a favorite in kitchens from small coastal villages to large cities in Alaska.
Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) is a serious illness caused by eating shellfish contaminated with algae that contains a toxin (referred to as PST, paralytic shellfish toxin) that is harmful to humans. PST is extremely poisonous; as little as one milligram is enough to kill an adult.
The Division of Environmental Health (EH), in partnership with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, started a small pilot program in May 2012 to assist local communities in shellfish monitoring.
- PST is now being detected during months previously thought “safe” for harvest.
- Clams and mussels absorb and expunge PST at different rates and retain the toxins for different lengths of time. A Razor Clam might be safe to eat and a Butter Clam from the same beach might make you sick.
- PST occurrences are beach specific. One beach can have safe or no levels of the toxin, and another beach just around the corner might have levels high enough to sicken or kill you.
Alaska Fact Sheets:
The legislature approved funding to support the small pilot program to test shellfish for and educate the community about PST. In May 2012, EH issued a request for proposals in which governmental organizations (municipalities, boroughs, state agencies, tribal governments) near popular recreational shellfish harvest beaches could submit proposals to receive funding to aid them in establishing community projects to monitor recreationally harvested shellfish. The proposals had to include a plan to set up a community monitoring effort, including: establish a network of individuals to run the program; train individuals to collect shellfish samples; collect, prepare, and ship samples to the lab; receive and distribute lab results; and educate the community about the risks and causes of PSP.
Four communities were selected to participate in the pilot program and implement their proposed projects. Local shellfish sampling began in July 2012. The State program reimburses the community project leads for certain costs associated with implementing their projects, such as sample testing and outreach efforts. The communities collect and ship shellfish samples, according to the Environmental Health Laboratory (EHL) protocol . The lab then tests the shellfish to determine the level of PST in the sample and returns the results to the community project lead. The community project partners are responsible for distributing the information throughout the area. One challenge of the program is that the samples tested only reflect the levels of PST in the harvest that the sample came from; one sample that shows safe levels of PST does not guarantee harvests from that beach will all have safe levels in the future.
While the program cannot guarantee the beaches tested as “safe” for recreational harvest, the program is intended to increase knowledge of local PST trends and establish knowledge of the risks of PST in specific harvests.
Currently the program is not accepting new communities because the funds have been fully allocated to the community projects that are underway.
Areas and Organizations That Are Testing:
Chilkoot Indian Association:
- Tanani Point (mussels)
- Viking Cove/Dry Bay (mussels)
- Contact: Brad Ryan at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kachemak Bay Research Reserve:
- Ninilchik (razor clams)
- Jakolof Bay (Pacific littleneck, butter clams)
- China Poot Bay (butter clams)
- Bear Cove (Pacific littleneck and mussels)
- Homer Spit (mussels)
- Port Graham Bay (butter clams)
- Contact: Terry Thompson at: email@example.com
Qagan Tayagungin Tribe:
- Sand Point Spit Beach (butter clams)
- Contact: Karis Porcincula at: QTTEnvironmental@arctic.net
Kodiak Island School District:
- Old Harbor (butter clams)
- Ouzinkie (butter clams)
- Contact: Steve Doerksen at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For additional information on the Recreational Shellfish Pilot Program, please contact Cathy Frost, Program Coordinator in the Environmental Health Director’s Office, at email@example.com or (907) 269-6066.
For additional information on the individual community projects, see the contacts above.