Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning – information for vets and pet owners

5 March 2018

On behalf of the Eastern Inshores Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), please find below an article regarding Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP).


In the wake of the deaths of two dogs thought to be due to toxins in dead fish found on beaches, further testing has been carried out by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas).

The crabs, whelks and shrimps that have been tested have shown either very low levels of PSP (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) toxins (well below the regulatory limit) or no toxins at all. However, further tests on starfish samples have found extremely high levels of toxins.

PSP toxins are typically associated with bivalve molluscs such as mussels, clams, oysters and scallops. These are filter feeders and can accumulate PSP toxins, which are produced naturally by certain species of microscopic algae. Algal blooms do not usually occur during winter months in the UK and the routine testing of bivalve molluscs has been negative for PSP.  As such the source of the contamination is still unknown and is being investigated.

It is thought that the contaminated animals were washed up on beaches during winter storms and are likely to have now been washed back into the sea.

Whilst it is thought unlikely that starfish with high levels of PSP toxins pose a health risk to humans through handling them, as a precaution people should refrain from handling any starfish they might find on the beach.

Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (Eastern IFCA) is co-ordinating the activity of relevant agencies in seeking to establish the source and extent of the PSP contamination. The agencies involved include Cefas, the Food Standards Agency, local authority Environmental Health departments, the Marine Management Organisation and the Environment Agency.

The CEO of Eastern IFCA, Julian Gregory, said: “Any risk is only because of ingestion so our advice to the public remains the same. There is a low level of risk to beach users and their pets but as a precaution it is suggested that dogs are kept under close control, on leads or muzzled and people should avoid handling starfish. There is no risk to people or pets from seawater.”

Analysis of the Dab associated with the incident at Cley indicates that it was contaminated with PSP, albeit at a level below the regulatory maximum allowed. Recreational sea anglers, who often fish for this species at this time of year, may wish to return their catch to the sea and avoid retaining it for consumption as a precautionary measure.

Owners of pets that have become ill after consuming items on a beach are asked to report the matter to the District or Borough Council for the area where the incident occurred.

Download an information sheet regarding PSP here.