This project expands existing harmful algal bloom (HAB) monitoring conducted by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Laboratory (STAERL) to include testing shellfish for domoic acid and diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) toxins, and to validate the protein phosphatase assay compared to accepted methods for DSP toxins. STAERL runs a successful HAB monitoring program for 16 communities in Southeast Alaska, where HAB toxins pose a health risk to subsistence, recreational, and commercial shellfish harvesters.
Why We Care
The Sitka Tribe of Alaska, founder of Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR), has a vested interest in protecting traditional natural resources and the health of local communities. SEATOR was formed in 2013 to unify Alaska tribes in monitoring HAB events that pose a health risk to subsistence, recreational, and commercial shellfish harvesters. SEATOR partners include 16 communities between Kodiak, Yakutat, and Metlakatla. Partners collect weekly phytoplankton and shellfish samples at over 52 monitoring sites and have been trained to identify the three main HAB genera in Alaska, including Alexandrium (paralytic shellfish toxins), Pseudo-nitzschia (domoic acid), and Dinophysis (okadaic acid). The Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Laboratory (STAERL) uses the receptor binding assay to determine paralytic shellfish toxin (PST) levels in samples collected by SEATOR partners. STAERL analyzes over 800 shellfish tissue samples each year for PSTs. While Alexandrium HABs and PSTs have long been the primary health risks to shellfish harvesters, domoic acid and diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) toxins are emerging as significant new concerns.
What Are We Doing
Based on the observations from phytoplankton monitoring, the goal of the project is to promote shellfish safety in Alaska by also testing samples for domoic acid and DSP toxins. This project will allow STAERL to build capacity to:
- Establish a baseline of domoic acid and DSP toxin values throughout the region; and
- Transfer the validated technologies to management labs.
DSP analyses would use a two-tier approach. STAERL will estimate overall toxicity using a phosphatase inhibition assay in the Sitka laboratory, and NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center (Seattle, Washington) will validate the results. Positive samples will be confirmed and analyzed to quantify DSP toxin analogues using a recently approved Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry method at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) lab in Charleston, South Carolina.
This project will support annual workshops to train participants on sample collection protocols, data interpretation, public health consequences, and public communication to tribal government environmental managers, state resource managers, university staff and students, shellfish industry representatives, community members, and federal entities. This project will also improve SEATOR’s current database and map interface tool which is used by local, regional, and state health departments to develop accurate and specific outreach material and public service announcements to warn shellfish harvesters before, during, and after a HAB event.
Mr. Chris Whitehead of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska leads this project. Co-investigators are Ms. Kari Lanphier (Sitka Tribe of Alaska), Dr. Steve Morton (NOAA NCCOS), Dr. Tod Leighfield (NOAA NCCOS), Dr. Vera Trainer (NOAA NMFS NWFSC), Mr. Brian Bill (NOAA NMFS NWFSC), and Ms. Teri King (Washington Sea Grant).
The project is funded through the NCCOS Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) Program.