Red tide in waters around Nanaimo

Fisheries officials are reminding people to check the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website for red tide closures before harvesting shellfish after more areas around Nanaimo were closed this week.

Fisheries officials are reminding people to check the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website for red tide closures before harvesting shellfish after more areas around Nanaimo were closed this week.

Maria Surry, a resource management biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said the waters around Nanaimo are completely closed to harvesting butter clams and scallops. Some areas are closed to harvesting all bivalve shellfish, with the remaining areas open for some species, such as manilla clams and mussels.

A complete list of the closures, as well as a map of the sub-areas around Nanaimo, is available at www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/psp. This information is also available by calling toll-free 1-866-431-3474.

Red Tide (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning contamination) is caused by microscopic marine organisms that produce toxins. These toxins can accumulate in bivalve shellfish such as clams, oysters, mussels and scallops because these animals filter feed.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency tests samples from the waters around B.C. by areas and sub-areas on a weekly basis and if toxin levels are unacceptable, the area or sub-area is closed to harvesting.

Surry said this can occur at any time of the year – although it is more common in the summer – and it is important that people check that the area they are planning to harvest is open just before going out because eating shellfish in a red tide zone can result in serious illness or death.

Waters around the east and west coasts of the Island are currently dotted with red tide closures.

People also need to be aware of areas closed due to sanitary contamination, Surry added.

Shellfish can be contaminated by human or animal waste that contains bacteria or viruses harmful to human health.

This information is also available at the DFO website.