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Thurston County, Washington

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Public Health and Social Services

Meeting notice: The Q2 meeting will be held June 25, 2024, at 3-4pm and is open to the public.


The Board of Thurston County Commissioners appoints 11 citizen stakeholders to advise on topics related to the Shellfish Protection Districts, and to help implement water quality improvement activities. The committees for Henderson Inlet and Nisqually Reach have been combined into a single group.

The partnership committee meets quarterly, beginning in March. Until further notice, meetings are being held virtually. 

Delicate Olympia Oysters on the Half Shell

About the Shellfish District

Membership includes eleven (11) stakeholders who reside or work within the districts' boundaries. The stakeholders represent the following interests: commercial agriculture, shellfish growers, builders/developers, representatives of tribes, cities, city residents, and county residents.



In December 2001, the Board of Thurston County Commissioners approved two ordinances creating the Henderson Inlet and the Nisqually Reach shellfish protection districts.

On March 26, 2002, the commissioners appointed a stakeholder group for each shellfish protection district. The groups were asked to craft recommendations on how to restore the quality of water in Henderson Inlet and Nisqually Reach to shellfishing standards. The stakeholder groups met regularly and submitted their water-quality cleanup plans to commissioners in 2003.

On February 14, 2012, the Board of County Commissioners and Board of Health adopted changes to Thurston County Sanitary Code and the Nisqually Reach Shellfish Protection District.

Shellfish Protection District Meetings

Date Agenda Minutes
03/19/2024 Meeting Agenda Minutes
Date Agenda Minutes
07/18/2023 Meeting Agenda *May be subject to changes Minutes
06/13/2023 Meeting Agenda Minutes
05/16/2023 Meeting Agenda  (May Meeting Canceled)
03/21/2023 Meeting Agenda Minutes
01/17/2023 Meeting Agenda Minutes
Date Agenda Minutes
11/15/2023 Meeting Agenda Minutes

Shellfish Safety

For your safety, check the status of shellfish harvesting prior to harvesting or consuming any local, recreationally harvested shellfish.

Molluscan shellfish (clams, oysters, mussels, and others that have a hinged shell) are filter feeders. They pump water through their systems, filtering out and absorbing any particles that are in the water.

The main food source for molluscan shellfish is microscopic algae. Some microscopic algae produce toxins, called biotoxins, that don't harm shellfish but can cause illness or death in people who eat them. Molluscan shellfish also absorb anything else that's in the water including bacteria, viruses, and contaminants. These can accumulate to the point where the shellfish become unsafe to eat.

Marine biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing and can be life-threatening. People can become ill from eating shellfish contaminated with the naturally occurring marine algae that contains biotoxins that are harmful to humans.  In most cases, the algae that contain the toxins cannot be seen and must be detected using laboratory testing. Shrimp and crab are typically not included in biotoxins closures, but crabs should be cleaned prior to cooking, and the “crab butter” should be discarded.

clams in bowl with running water

Don't Ignore Symptoms!

Call 911 immediately if you notice any of these symptoms after you eat shellfish:

  • Numb tongue or lips.
  • Tingling in toes or fingertips.
  • Loss of muscular control.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhea. 

Common illnesses from shellfish in Washington’s marine waters include:

Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP)
  • Symptoms of PSP can appear within minutes or hours and usually begin with tingling lips and tongue, moving to the hands and feet, followed by difficulty breathing and potentially death. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should contact a health care provider. For extreme reactions, call 911.
Diarrhetic Shellfish Poison (DSP)
  • Symptoms of DSP causes nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, with diarrhea being the most commonly reported symptom.

Amnesic Shellfish Poison (ASP)


  • Symptoms include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps within 24 hours of ingestion. In severe cases, neurological symptoms develop within 72 hours and include headache, dizziness, confusion, disorientation, loss of short-term memory, motor weakness, seizures, profuse respiratory secretions, cardiac arrhythmias, coma, and possible death. Short term memory loss can be permanent.

Vibriosis (bacteria)


  • Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, chills, within 24 hours. The formation of blistering skin lesions can also occur in wound infection.
  • Vibrio parahaemolyticus is destroyed by cooking shellfish to an internal temperature of 145° F for 15 seconds. Eat only well-cooked shellfish, especially in summer months. Do not consider shellfish to be fully cooked when the shells just open; they need to cook longer to reach 145° F.
  • Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain within 12-48 hours.
  • Shellfish can be a source of norovirus illness, especially in colder months (November - March) Norovirus is a virus that causes a highly contagious illness commonly referred to as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu, and food poisoning. Cooking can reduce the risk of norovirus illness, but the virus can survive at temperatures up to 140º. Quick steaming or cooking until the shells just open is not enough to protect against norovirus illness.

For most people, eating raw seafood or shellfish carries a small risk of illness. But for others, the consequences can be dangerous and even deadly. For people at high-risk for foodborne illness — compromised immune systems, decreased stomach acidity, pregnant women, infants, young children, and older adults — severe and life-threatening illness may result from consuming raw or undercooked fish and shellfish. Raw fish and shellfish consumption is never advised for high-risk individuals. If you are in this category, thoroughly cook fish and shellfish. If unsure of risk level, consult with your physician or registered nutritionist.

Test your knowledge of common beliefs and determine if they are myth, a misconception, or fact!

1. Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP) is only present in red or muddy colored water. Misconception. High levels of PSP can be present in water that is crystal clear. Red or muddy colored water is no indication of PSP. Occasionally the water is red when PSP levels are high; there is a type of toxic algae that turns water a reddish color and this is associated with the term “red tide”. However, most of the red-colored algae in Washington are not toxic.
2. Toxic shellfish look different than non-toxic shellfish. Myth. There are no visual clues to tell you when shellfish are toxic. Toxic shellfish look exactly the same as shellfish that are safe to eat.
3. A good test to see if shellfish are toxic is to touch one to your tongue. If your tongue tingles, it's toxic. If it doesn't, it's ok to eat. Myth. This is not a reliable test, in fact it's a very risky practice. If your tongue doesn't tingle, the shellfish can still contain high enough levels of toxin to make you sick. If your tongue does tingle, the shellfish is extremely toxic, and you may have just made yourself seriously ill. Please don't try this!
4. If I develop symptoms of biotoxin poisoning, I shouldn't worry too much. Antidotes are readily available. Myth. There are no antidotes for biotoxin poisoning. The only treatment for severe cases is to be placed on life support systems (such as a ventilator) until the toxin passes from your system. This is why it's so important to call 911 or your health care provider if you have symptoms of PSP or Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP). Time is of the essence. Deaths have occurred from PSP in less than thirty minutes.
5. I should view the Shellfish Safety Map or call the Hotline a few days before I go to the beach to make sure the area is safe to harvest shellfish. Half right. You should utilize these resources but do so just before harvesting to make sure the area you're going to is safe. Biotoxin levels can change rapidly and there can be several closures in the course of one day.
6. You know shellfish are safe to eat if you see wildlife eating them and they don't look sick or have any symptoms. Myth. The tolerance level for biotoxins in wildlife species is not known. Observing birds or other animals that have eaten shellfish will not tell you if the shellfish are safe to eat.
7. Cooking shellfish in boiling water will remove toxins, making them safe to eat. Misconception. Shellfish can be toxic or safe at any time of the year.

Contact the Water Quality Laboratory at 360-867-2631 or email us at if you have additional questions.

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