Jamestown, Partners Establishing Warning System for Harmful Algal Blooms

The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and federal and state agencies are trying to figure out how they can predict potential spikes of shellfish poisoning in Washington waters.

The partners are developing an early warning system for harmful algal blooms and shellfish biotoxins, which cause shellfish poisoning.

Staff from the tribe, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Washington State Department of Health (DOH) are measuring concentrations of marine algae in the water and associated fat soluble toxins in shellfish from 18 sites in Puget Sound, the Olympic Peninsula and the coast this summer.

Biotoxins concentrated in shellfish can cause diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) and azasparacid shellfish poisoning (AZP) which result in severe gastrointestinal distress.

In 2011, there were three cases of DSP linked to mussels harvested at Sequim Bay State Park. Since then, the tribe has been monitoring for DSP and looking for the type of algae that causes it, said Neil Harrington, the tribe’s environmental biologist. The state has also integrated DSP monitoring into its routine biotoxin monitoring for recreational and commercial shellfish harvest since 2012.

In addition to further studying DSP, this summer’s effort is looking at concentrations of the toxic algae that produces AZP as well as looking for its associated biotoxin in shellfish.

“This project plays to the strengths of each partner and allows a more extensive, efficient and comprehensive study to be completed than if each entity tried to accomplish this on their own,” Harrington said. “Study results will allow a program to be put into place to prevent any cases of AZP and safeguard our shellfish supply.”

Little is known about AZP in the U.S., but the causative organism has been found in Puget Sound waters, and the associated toxin has been found in in extremely low levels in shellfish recent years, Harrington said.

This study will give shellfish managers at the tribes and state the information needed to determine if AZP is an issue of concern and if it should be included into the routine monitoring program for biotoxins.