Bivalve shellfish - gathering, eating and selling

The East Lothian coastline is home to a variety of live shellfish including: mussels, razors, cockles, scallops, clams and oysters. These types of shellfish are called bivalve molluscs. They feed by straining and processing organic matter like
plankton from the water.

Health risks of eating wild bivalve shellfish

Consuming wild bivalve shellfish is potentially dangerous. Concentrations of marine pollutants can store in the flesh of these organisms. 

Bio-toxins produced by microalgae can accumulate in bivalve shellfish. These toxins can cause a range of serious ill health effects such as amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP), diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) and paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). The symptoms of these illnesses can include: diarrhoea, vomiting, memory loss, cramps, dizziness, numbness and respiratory distress.

Bivalve shellfish can also store high levels of microorganisms which can cause severe gastrointestinal upset including: bacteria, viruses and parasites. Industrial practices, agricultural land use or boats, may also contaminate shellfish with heavy metals or chemicals. 

When are bivalves safe to eat?

The safety of bivalve shellfish depends on the quality of waters in which they are harvested. The shellfish you find in your local supermarket or restaurant are harvested in approved areas of water. These waters are regularly tested to ensure that they are safe and meet regulatory standards. 

Shellfish from approved areas may also undergo an additional cleaning procedure called depuration. This is when they are placed in a tank of clean seawater to remove any organisms and toxins.

There are no approved and designated harvesting areas directly accessible from the shore line at any beach in East Lothian.

Bivalve Shellfish and the Law

Collecting of bivalve shellfish from unapproved areas for commercial purposes and placing them on the market for retail sale is an offence under Regulation (EC) 853/2004.

Aberlady Bay Local Nature Reserve and John Muir Country Park which includes Tyninghame Bay are protected by local bylaws. These bylaws make the killing, taking or disturbing of any living animal in these areas an offence.

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code also stipulates that the collection of fauna for commercial purposes requires the prior permission of the landowner.

East Lothian Council regularly carries out surveillance at locations when reports of commercial harvesting of shellfish are received. When performing food hygiene inspections at local businesses, the environmental health team will always seek to ascertain where food has come from. This includes checking that shellfish have full traceability documentation.

Collecting bivalves for personal consumption is not an offence. If you choose to collect and eat live shellfish from unapproved areas, you may be putting your health at risk.

Contact [email protected]  to discuss the commercial harvesting of any shellfish in East Lothian.