Learning how to check for red tide and shellfish closures in BC is an essential part of harvesting shellfish safely. Every harvester, no matter how experienced they are, needs to check for red tide and shellfish closures before they eat bivalve molluscs like oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops that they find in BC.
Most people, especially visitors to BC and the Sunshine Coast, don’t know about red tide or other shellfish closures that occur in British Columbia – not to mention the dismaying number of people who have no idea they need a fishing license to harvest shellfish here. Knowing to check for red tide and shellfish closures simply isn’t common knowledge.
As a Sunshine Coast dweller, I often run into visitors and newcomers to the Coast who tell me about how they were surprised to find oysters or clams on the beach, and how much they enjoyed eating them fresh or raw immediately after harvesting them.
While I’m always excited to hear about people eating wild food, these kinds of inexperienced shellfish harvesting stories immediately set alarm bells off in my head. I almost always ask these shellfish harvesters whether they checked for red tide and shellfish closures before they ate them, and I’m almost always dismayed to find that they have no idea what I’m talking about.
If you don’t know how to check for red tide and shellfish closures in BC like sanitary contamination, you could be risking your health every time you forage for oysters, clams, and other bivalves. Red tide, toxins, and bacteria are legitimately dangerous and should be taken seriously.
Read this guide on how to check for red tide and shellfish closures in BC so you can harvest shellfish safely and confidently.
What Shellfish Do Red Tide and Shellfish Closures Affect?
Red tide and shellfish closures typically affect bivalves, but they can restrict the safe harvest of any type of shellfish depending on the type of closure.
Bivalve molluscs are commonly defined as shellfish that have two shells, such as oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops.
Types of shellfish that are not considered bivalves include crabs, prawns, and shrimp.
Finfish and other types of fish are not considered shellfish.
What is Red Tide?
Red tide is common name for a harmful algal bloom, which is made up of a large concentration of aquatic microorganisms (algae, a type of phytoplankton) that multiply rapidly during certain marine conditions. The name stems from the colour of the algae, which can appear to turn the water red or brown in when densely accumulated.
Red tide can contain algae that produce dangerous biotoxins that can contaminate bivalve shellfish in the area, making the bivalves unsafe to eat. In BC, red tide is associated with paralytic shellfish poison (PSP), which can have serious or fatal consequences on humans.
Algal blooms occur most often during the spring and summer months, as sunlight and the warm water temperature can encourage the growth and proliferation of algae. However, algal blooms can occur throughout the year, no matter what the temperature or weather is like.
It’s important to know that some algal blooms do not change the colour of the water and that red tide often cannot be seen from the shore by the naked eye. It’s always necessary to check for red tide and other shellfish closures, whether or not the water looks red or brown coloured.
Cooking shellfish does not destroy the biotoxins associated with red tide or paralytic shellfish poisoning. Cooked shellfish can still be dangerous if affected by this closure. Always check for red tide and shellfish closures in BC before harvesting wild oysters, clams, and other shellfish!
Other Shellfish Closures
There are a number of reasons why shellfish closures could occur in your area, other than just red tide. BC’s Fisheries and Oceans department tests each area and its shellfish for biotoxins and bacteria to make sure that people can harvest shellfish safely.
Other shellfish closures:
- Amnesic shellfish poison (ASP) – bivalve molluscs only
- Diarrhetic shellfish poison (DSP) – bivalves molluscs only
- Domoic acid – shellfish and crabs
- Sanitary contamination
Cooking shellfish does not destroy the biotoxins associated with ASP, DSP, domoic acid, or sanitary contamination. Cooked shellfish can still be dangerous if they are affected by these closures.
Checking for Red Tide and Shellfish Closures in BC
I find the Government of Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans website overly complicated and genuinely confusing and I’ve been using it for years, so I really sympathize with anyone who’s looking for red tide and shellfish closures for their first time.
Luckily, once you narrow down exactly what web pages have the right information, finding the red tide and shellfish closures in your area isn’t that difficult. I’ll walk you through four steps that will show you exactly how to check for red tide and shellfish closures in BC.
Go to the Marine Biotoxin Contamination Closures – Pacific Region page and click on your city, town, or landmark and tidal area in the chart at the bottom of the page.
If you can’t find your city, town, or landmark, you can also use the search function on the right-hand side.
2. Identify Your Region on the Area Map
Click on the area map on the right-hand side of the page.
Selecting the area map will open a new page that breaks down your location into tidal subareas.
If you’re not sure exactly what tidal subarea you’re in, try opening your Google Maps or Maps app and using GPS to locate where you are on a map. Cross-reference where you are in your app to where you are on the regional tidal subarea map.
3. Check the Shellfish Closure Subarea
Return to the region page and find the tidal subarea you’re in the shellfish closure chart.
Check what shellfish are open for harvesting in the tidal subarea you’re in.
All shellfish open to harvesting and shellfish closures will be listed in the chart under your tidal subarea.
Bookmark the Fishery Notices page and search by using either Command + F or Control + F on your computer to search for your tidal area to see if there are any new shellfish closures or important information to know before harvesting in that area.
Alternatively, Call Your Local DFO Office
If you aren’t able to check whether there are any red tide or shellfish closures in your area online, you can always call your local Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) office by searching for your local DFO officer. Remember, always check for red tide and shellfish closures in BC before harvesting wild bivalves!
Have Fun and Be Safe!