A bloom of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, persists in Southwest Florida from Pinellas to Collier counties. Fish kills affecting multiple species have been reported along Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties. The public has questions about whether they can eat seafood. The following information from FWC should answer some of the questions about seafood safety.
Is it OK to eat shellfish at a restaurant or purchase shellfish from a seafood market during a red tide?
Store-bought and restaurant-served shellfish are safe to eat during a bloom because the shellfish are monitored by the government for safety. Commercially available shellfish are often not locally harvested and, if harvested locally, are tested for red tide toxins before they are sold.
Is it OK to eat recreationally harvested shellfish during a red tide?
Recreational harvesting of bivalve molluscs such as hard clams, oysters and mussels from conditionally approved or approved shellfish harvesting areas is banned during red tide closures; these organisms may not legally be harvested and, therefore, should not be eaten during any closure of a shellfish harvesting area. To determine whether or not harvesting of shellfish is permitted in an area, visit the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Aquaculture website. Edible parts of other animals commonly referred to as shellfish (crabs, shrimp and lobsters) are not affected by the red tide organism and can be eaten. Do not eat the tomalley (green stuff, hepatopancreas). During scallop season, locally harvested scallops from open scallop harvesting areas are also safe to eat as long as you eat only the muscle of the scallop and not the whole animal.
In addition, illegally harvested and unregulated shellfish are particularly dangerous and should never be consumed. For example, coquina clams and molluscan predators, such as whelks that feed on toxic bivalves, readily accumulate toxins in their tissues. An illegal harvest is a dangerous harvest.
Is it OK to eat local finfish during a red tide?
Yes, it is safe to eat local finfish as long as the fish are filleted before eaten. Although toxins may accumulate in the guts of fish, these areas are disposed of when the fish are filleted. However, it is never a good idea to eat dead or distressed animals, especially in a red tide area, because the reason for the animal’s strange behavior or death cannot be absolutely known.
Does cooking or freezing destroy the Florida red tide toxin?
No, cooking or freezing does not destroy the red tide toxin. Furthermore, the toxin cannot be seen or tasted.