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State Public Health Department Issues Warning About Seafood with Toxins in Santa Barbara County

A state agency is warning consumers to stay away from certain seafood caught in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties — varieties with higher levels of a naturally occurring toxin.

The California Department of Public Health updated an earlier warning late last week urging consumers to stay away from eating recreationally harvested mussels and clams, commercially or recreationally caught anchovy and sardines, and commercially or recreationally caught crabs.

The latest warning does not extend to commercially sold clams, mussels, scallops or oysters from approved sources, which are monitored more closely.

So far, no related illnesses have been reported.

The agency first detected dangerous levels of domoic acid in samples of some recreationally caught mussels and clams in early June, which at that time included the internal organs of scallops and the internal organs of commercially or recreationally harvested anchovy, crabs and sardines.

“Domoic acid accumulation in seafood is a natural occurrence that is related to a ‘bloom’ of a particular single-celled plant,” the state agency said in a statement. “The conditions that support the growth of this plant are impossible to predict.”

A state public health spokesperson couldn’t say whether the bloom was related to the algal phenomenon seen in the Santa Barbara Channel in early June.

Extra caution comes as local waters continue recovering from a recently lifted ban on fishing related to the May 19 oil spill off the Gaviota Coast.

That closure, which was lifted last week, prohibited commercial and recreational fishing and taking shellfish between Gaviota State Park and Coal Oil Point in Goleta.

Santa Barbara Harbor Operations Manager Mick Kronman said a notice about the warning would be posted at the harbor, but he didn’t expect it to have much impact locally, since these notices go up occasionally.

“The biggest problem is usually for animals who eat those animals,” Kronman said.

Officials were less worried about most commercial fare because California law allows only state-certified commercial shellfish harvesters or dealers to sell seafood. Those entities are subject to frequent mandatory testing for toxins.

The California Department of Public Health will continue efforts to collect a variety of shellfish and crab samples from the three counties to monitor the level of domoic acid in seafood.

Symptoms of domoic acid poisoning can occur within 30 minutes to 24 hours after eating toxic seafood, the state agency said.

“In mild cases, symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache and dizziness. These symptoms disappear within several days. In severe cases, the victim may experience trouble breathing, confusion, disorientation, cardiovascular instability, seizures, excessive bronchial secretions, permanent loss of short-term memory, coma or death.”

For updated information about shellfish poisoning and quarantines, call the California Department of Public Health’s toll-free Shellfish Information Line at 800.553.4133.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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