Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

August 20, 2010 15:21 ET

Harvest Shellfish Safely

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Aug. 20, 2010) - Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is strongly advising shellfish harvesters in British Columbia to check whether fishing areas are open and shellfish are safe to consume before harvesting.

"Harvesting closures can happen quickly in-season," said Elysha Gordon of DFO's Resource Management team. "It is essential for public health and safety that harvesters of bivalve shellfish always check to ensure that fishing areas are open and approved for harvesting prior to fishing."

Bivalve shellfish, which have a hinged, two-part shell, and include oysters, clams, scallops, mussels and cockles, can be affected by paralytic shellfish poison (PSP), also known as "red tide," and sanitary contamination. Eating shellfish that have been contaminated by PSP can result in serious illness or death. Cooking shellfish prior to consuming does not destroy PSP or eliminate this risk. PSP toxins generally only occur in bivalve mollusks; however, if the levels are too high, crab hepatopancreas may also become toxic.

Bivalve shellfish that are harvested in open areas and handled correctly should be safe to eat. Purchased shellfish are also safe to eat, provided they are only purchased from retailers who can confirm their source and that they were harvested from an open area. In general, shellfish that have been legally commercially harvested are safe to eat.

Harvesters and consumers of bivalve shellfish should also be aware of Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp), which can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea and vomiting if shellfish is not properly stored or cooked prior to consumption. Levels of Vp, which occurs naturally in Pacific coastal waters, rise in warmer water conditions and can concentrate in bivalve shellfish. Immediately after harvesting bivalve shellfish, they should be frozen or refrigerated. Cooking shellfish is generally an effective way of preventing illness due to Vibrio bacteria.

To reduce the risk of illness from Vp, bivalve shellfish should only be harvested at the water's edge when the tide is going out and they should be refrigerated immediately. Bivalve shellfish should be stored frozen at -18 degrees C, or refrigerated at 4 degrees C, and cooked for five minutes at 60 degrees C prior to consumption. Hands should be washed after handling raw seafood and only treated drinking water should be used to rinse ready-to-eat seafood.

Harvesters must comply with regulations related to shellfish harvesting, such as area closures. It is illegal to harvest shellfish from a closed area. A tidal waters sport fishing licence is required to harvest shellfish for recreational purposes.

Information on PSP closures is updated frequently and is available from the following sources:

Information on sanitary contamination closures is available on this webpage:

Contact Information

  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada
    Elysha Gordon
    Resource Management, South Coast Area
    (250) 756-7192
    Fisheries and Oceans Canada
    Michelle Imbeau
    Communications Advisor, Pacific Region
    (604) 666-2872