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Harmful Algal Bloom Event Response: Helping New York Sustain Algal Toxin Monitoring of Shellfish to Ensure Seafood Safety

This project began in April 2010 and is Ongoing

Emergency funds from NCCOS allowed New York to monitor algal toxins during a bloom event that coincided with a state spending freeze. Shellfish consumers and the reputation of one of New York’s most valuable fisheries were protected when beds with paralytic shellfish poisoning were closed.

Why We Care
In the spring of 2010, New York State Department of Environmental Conversation officials observed increasing cell numbers of the toxic algae Alexandrium. When shellfish feed on toxic Alexandrium, paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins (called saxitoxins) accumulate in their flesh and viscera. Animals that eat shellfish with PSP toxins often become sick. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain; extreme cases can be fatal. Increasing Alexandrium cell abundance is often a precursor to PSP toxin levels in harvestable shellfish that exceed regulatory-acceptable thresholds.

What We Did
In April 2010, the NCCOS Harmful Algal Bloom Event Response program provided funds to the New York State Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources. This allowed them to continue monitoring PSP toxin levels in shellfish, and to screen water samples for Alexandrium cells in the face of a budget freeze. The state used NOAA funds to purchase a quantity of commercially available rapid toxin detection kits for shellfish screening.

What We Found
The NOAA-supported monitoring took place in the Long Island waters of Huntington/Northport Bay and Meetinghouse Creek—a tributary of the Peconic estuary located in eastern Suffolk County. Sentinel shellfish screening tests revealed the presence of PSP toxins in Huntington/Northport Bay in concentrations that exceeded the alert level. Mouse-bioassay findings by Maine officials confirmed these results.

The state issued a closure order on May 12, prohibiting shellfish harvesting from about 2200 acres of Northport Bay and two adjacent tributary harbors. On May 18, a new order expanded the impacted shellfish areas to around 7500 acres throughout all the bays and harbors in the Huntington/Northport area. This was the largest area closed due to PSP toxins in 2010 and the greatest HAB toxin impact since New York first closed beds because of algal toxins in 2006.

Based on the Maine mouse bioassay results from samples shipped with our support, New York was able to partially re-open (~5300 acres) on June 4. They re-opened the remaining 2200 acres on June 16. Monitoring continued through to the end of June 2010. Our funds enabled New York to continue to operate its well-established and rigorous shellfish monitoring program, in the face of state budget limitations, maintaining protection of the health of shellfish consumers and protecting one of New York’s most valuable fisheries.

Nexts Steps
HAB event response continues to fund projects that support the well-established, rigorous state shellfish monitoring programs that protect human health, assuring that commercially available shellfish are safe for consumption.

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