With increasing sea surface temperatures due to climate change, harmful algal blooms in Alaska marine waters are becoming more severe, threatening food security and public health by reducing availability and safety of shellfish and other marine food resources. Paralytic shellfish poisoning, a neurotoxin primarily produced by marine phytoplankton Alexandrium, is the most severe and pervasive biotoxin problem in Alaska and is regularly detected in shellfish at levels unsafe for human consumption.
Illness and deaths have been attributed to paralytic shellfish poisoning in Alaska, yet there is still limited capacity for testing of harmful algal blooms for culturally important subsistence resources. Increasingly, evidence is emerging to suggest that climate change has contributed to the worldwide increase in the duration, frequency, and geographical distribution of harmful algal blooms (Dale et al., 2006; Edwards et al., 2006; Moore et al., 2008b; Paerl & Huisman, 2008; Tester, 1994). Despite this growing body of evidence, there is currently no state-operated biotoxin monitoring program for non-commercial shellfish in Alaska, and food insecurity is increasing for subsistence communities that rely on wild shellfish.
To adapt to this risk, the Chugach Regional Resources Commission (CRRC) has formed a Tribal harmful algal blooms monitoring network linking the seven Tribal governments in the region to collect critical phytoplankton data that can be used as an “early warning” of harmful algal bloom events. This project will link CRRC’s efforts to the University of Alaska’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences to build capacity for CRRC to develop a biotoxin laboratory to test shellfish from each of the regional Tribal communities for paralytic shellfish toxins and domoic acid.
CRRC partner Tribes will collect shellfish twice per month from their existing phytoplankton monitoring sites. Data will be added to CRRC’s database, and will be used to inform subsistence harvesters, resource managers, and researchers of current paralytic shellfish poisoning risk levels at key shellfish harvest sites. Upon project completion, the CRRC harmful algal bloom monitoring program will be able to develop subsistence shellfish harvest management plans in each of the seven communities. At a regional level, this project will link fish and wildlife environmental exposures to climate change, enabling the CRRC partner Tribes to develop climate adaptation strategies to improve long-term food security.
Click on title to download individual files attached to this item.
“Selawik River, Alaska; Credit: Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service”