A collaborative, NOAA-funded study may help resume shellfish trade between the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) by answering questions about the prevalence and toxicity of lipophilic (fat-soluble) toxins in shellfish.
In 2010, the EU halted imports of US shellfish after reciprocal reviews of the equivalency of EU and US shellfish sanitation programs. In an effort to restore trade, the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) and the European Commission are finalizing separate proposals to determine equivalence regarding the US and EU food safety control systems for shellfish.
Data generated by this National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) research project was provided to the US FDA’s Division of Seafood Safety to address the European Commission’s questions regarding the prevalence and toxicity of lipophilic shellfish toxins. The project was conceived by the Washington Department of Health and led by NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Marine Microbes and Toxins Program to ensure public health safety and by Puget Sound shellfish growers, including the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Taylor Shellfish, who have been prohibited from selling their products to the EU.
Lipophilic toxins associated with human diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) and azaspiracid shellfish poisoning (AZP) are produced during blooms of the microscopic algae Dinophysis and Azadinium, respectively. These harmful algal blooms can threaten recreational, subsistence, and commercial shellfisheries in Washington State and other coastal regions around the US. However, unlike Dinophysis, Azadinium is more difficult to monitor through standard phytoplankton monitoring programs due to its small size.
As a result of this study, monitoring capabilities for lipophilic toxins were developed and integrated into existing Washington state management programs. The research also provided the US FDA with much needed information on the occurrence of Azadinium and azaspiracids that was shared with the European Commission during their review of US shellfish safety protocols. Additionally, an analytical method developed by US FDA for DSP toxin testing was approved in 2017 under the federal/state cooperative National Shellfish Sanitation Program that governs sanitary control of shellfish produced and sold for human consumption in the US.
The completion of US and EU equivalence determinations will allow restoration of shellfish trade between select US states (initially Massachusetts and Washington) and EU (initially Spain and the Netherlands) member countries. This will unlock economic opportunity by resuming market access for US exporters of bivalve shellfish harvested in Washington and Massachusetts.
Collaborators on this MERHAB project included NOAA’s NWFSC Marine Microbes and Toxins Program and NCCOS Stressor Detection and Impacts Division, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Washington Sea Grant, Washington Department of Health, Alfred-Wegener Institute in Germany, Molecular Resources LLC, the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), SoundToxins, and Olympic Region Harmful Algal Blooms. Major funding for this project was provided by NCCOS with additional support from NWFSC.