Shellfish farmers get OK to sell oysters

Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2004

ANCHORAGE (AP) Kachemak Bay oyster farmers can start selling their shellfish again, but under limited conditions, state environmental regulators said.

Earlier this month, area oyster and mussel farms were closed because of unacceptable levels of paralytic shellfish poison.

On Monday, the Department of Environmental Conservation said oyster farms in Kachemak Bay may harvest one lot of oysters at a time and have them sampled for PSP. If the test comes back below national standards for the toxin, they may sell that lot, said Nancy Napolilli, manager of food safety and sanitation with the DEC.

The broad closure will remain in effect until growers have three consecutive negative tests for PSP, she said. The oyster farms in the bay were to start the sampling process Tuesday, in hopes of getting their oysters back on the market, said George Overpeck, manager of the Kachemak Shellfish Growers Cooperative.

Some Alaska oyster farms have also stopped selling their product because of an outbreak of the bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus. None of the oyster farms in Kachemak Bay have had to stop selling their oysters because of Vibrio contamination, according to state officials.

Vibrio is a bacterium that flourished in this summer's warmer than usual seawater. The state health department said 46 people had probably contracted the bacterium, and eight additional people had confirmed cases of it.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus typically causes diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever and other symptoms within a day of someone's eating raw or undercooked oysters.

PSP is caused by a toxin and can lead to numbness of the mouth and extremities, as well as a loss of control of limbs, within minutes to hours after shellfish is eaten.

said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, acting state epidemiologist. Symptoms usually resolve themselves within hours or days, but severe cases can lead to respiratory failure or death.

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