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Concerns over safety of Dorset shellfish

Shellfish caught off the Dorset coast contained high toxin levels which could present a public health risk, recent tests have confirmed.

Weymouth Port Health Authority (WPHA) have issued a statement detailing that the Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) toxin in the algae has reached unsafe levels, following an algae increase last year.

“Algae blooms typically occur in the spring but can occur at other times as well,” said the WPHA.

Found in the digestive systems of shellfish, ASP causes neurological symptoms.

It can result in dizziness, confusion, weakness, permanent short-term memory loss, and death in the most serious cases.

The problem was first detected in May 2014, when the harvesting of mussels, oysters and scallops was prevented after the closure of Portland Harbour.

The harbour was not re-opened for harvesting until late June 2014.

There can only be 20 milligrams of the toxin component, known as domoic acid, per kilogram in each shellfish.

While these levels dropped throughout 2014, they have still remained too high above the levels permitted safe for human consumption.

Scallops are of more concern than other shellfish, as they most commonly pick up the toxin, but are poor at releasing it.

Working alongside the Food Standards Agency and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the WPHA are trying to combat the increased amount of the toxin by encouraging commercial harvesters to undertake routine tests of their shellfish.

Paul Kimber, Chair of Weymouth Port Health Committee said: “Weymouth PHA officers working with the Cefas Lab will continue to monitor the overall toxin situation.

“This is part of a national public health control programme which the authority has been engaged with since the programme started some 15 years ago.”

The authority are urging recreational divers and other members of the public to be careful when collecting their own scallops for consumption, in case they contain the toxin.

“Discarding the gut and gut membranes gives a reasonable measure of safety,” says the WPHA. “However, others may not be so easily removed.”