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First Report of Saxitoxin Exposure in Endangered Shortnose Sturgeon

shortnose sturgeon

shortnose sturgeon

The likelihood of frequent exposure to saxitoxins in the New England region, specifically in Maine, may be a serious long-term health threat to shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum). NCCOS scientists have now confirmed the presence of saxitoxins in this endangered species and provided evidence of food web transfer of these toxins produced by the harmful algae genus Alexandrium.

In July 2009, a severe Alexandrium bloom in New England coastal waters coincided with a shortnose sturgeon mortality event when 13 fish were found dead in Sagadahoc Bay, Maine. The die-off was associated with extremely high Alexandrium cell densities, record-breaking toxin levels in shellfish, and closures of shellfish beds affecting almost the entire Maine coastline.

Saxitoxin-producing blooms of Alexandrium have been responsible for devastating ecosystem-wide impacts in coastal waters of the northeastern U.S., strengthening the argument that the damaging effects of HAB toxins should be incorporated into future assessments of the health of endangered fish stocks.

More detailed information can be found in the publication Saxitoxin Exposure in Endangered Fish Stocks: Association of a Shortnose Sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) Mortality Event with a Harmful Algal Bloom in Maine accepted by Marine Ecology Progress Series on April 16, 2012 and will be published in the upcoming months. This work was done in collaboration with the Northeast Region Shortnose Sturgeon Recovery Program, the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the University of Maine Animal Health Laboratory.

There is a federal recovery plan for these fish. Bring the population numbers up and shortnose sturgeon caviar may be on the menu again. If they get taken out by saxitoxin, not going to be on the menu. The shortnose sturgeon was listed as a federal endangered species in 1967, and a federal recovery plan was completed in 1998.  (Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife)

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