San Luis Obispo County comes under seasonal ban for sports harvesting of mussels

Today marks the start of the annual quarantine of sport-harvested mussels along the California coast.

"The quarantine is in place to protect the public against poisoning that can lead to severe illness, including coma and death," said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health.

The quarantine is meant to keep the public from paralytic shellfish poisoning and domoic acid poisoning, both of which occur from eating filter-feeding shellfish such as mussels. Most cases of human poisoning occur between spring and fall.

PSP affects the nervous system, producing a tingling around the mouth and fingertips within a few minutes to hours of eating toxic shellfish. Symptoms that follow include loss of balance and muscular coordination, slurred speech and difficulty swallowing. In severe cases, complete paralysis and death from asphyxiation can occur.

Domoic acid poisoning symptoms can develop within 30 minutes to 24 hours after ingesting seafood that is toxic. Symptoms range from vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, headache and dizziness to excessive bronchial secretions, difficulty breathing, confusion, seizures, permanent loss of short-term memory, coma and death.

The ban covers all bays, harbors and estuaries, and typically runs through Oct. 31.

Sports fishing is affected, but commercial operations that produce shellfish are not under the same quarantine. That is because such operations must meet strict standards to ensure no toxins are in their product.

For more information on the quarantine or shellfish toxins, call the health department at 800-553-4133.