The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has closed the popular North Beach scallop fishery, saying that the tasty bivalves contain dangerously high levels of biotoxins.
“People are taking a real risk,” said DFO detachment supervisor Tom Hlavac, adding that he heard reports of up to 50 people on the beach last week gathering scallops. “It might be hard to resist but it’s very dangerous.”
The closure has been in place since May, but scallops are not normally harvested until fall and winter. Certain combinations of wind and tide wash them up on shore, Mr. Hlavac said, where they can be easily gathered.
The closure affects all bivalve shellfish, which besides scallops includes mussels, cockles and clams. Samples analyzed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have found higher than acceptable limits of both Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (or PSP) and Amnesiac Shellfish Poisoning (or ASP), Mr. Hlavac said.
Fisheries officers have been patrolling North Beach and warning people about the closure and the health risk, Mr. Hlavac said. Most people are greeting the news with disbelief, he said.
“What we’re finding is there’s an awful lot of harvesting of scallops,” he said. “I don’t think people are believing that it’s bad.”
Officers have not yet charged anyone, preferring to take a public education approach, Mr. Hlavac said. However, it is a violation of the Fisheries Act to harvest bivalve shellfish from closed areas.
The fishery will be re-opened as soon as tests show acceptable levels of the biotoxins, Mr. Hlavac said. People can check whether it is open or closed by calling the DFO office in Masset at 626-3316, the Queen Charlotte office at 559-4413, or on the internet at www.pac.dfompo.qc.ca/ops/fm.shellfish/biotoxins/closures
According to information from DFO, symptoms of ASP vary from nausea, vomiting and diarrhea to muscle weakness, disorientation and memory loss. Symptoms of PSP begin with a tingling sensation or numbness around the lips, spreading to the face and neck. In moderate to severe cases, there can be incoherent speech, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, salivation or temporary blindness. Death can result in severe cases. There is no known antidote for PSP.
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