• Sitka Tribe of Alaska starts testing for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and other marine biotoxins

Esther Kennedy of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resource Protection Department samples water near the Starrigavan Recreation Area dock for marine biotoxins such as paralytic shellfish poisoning. (Photos by Emily Kwong, KCAW-Raven Radio)

Esther Kennedy of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resource Protection Department samples water near the Starrigavan Recreation Area dock for marine biotoxins such as paralytic shellfish poisoning. (Photos by Emily Kwong, KCAW-Raven Radio)

PSPTestingEquipmentThe Sitka Tribe of Alaska and its other tribal partners in Southeast Alaska have begun testing for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and other marine biotoxins.

The first-year testing program was detailed in a March 24 story on KCAW-Raven Radio, with each of the tribal partners concentrating on one particular spot in their communities (at Starrigavan Recreation Area in Sitka, where two people were sickened in October 2013) as the tribal testers become more comfortable with the testing procedures. Once the technicians become more proficient, and the regional testing lab is built, the program will be expanded to other beaches in Southeast Alaska. The second part of the two-part series aired on April 9 and discussed the benefits to commercial shellfish operations of having a lab in Southeast Alaska.

The Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) program to study harmful algal blooms was announced in October, and Sitka Tribe of Alaska hosted a regional training in November. SEATT partners include Sitka Tribe of Alaska, the Klawock Cooperative Association, Craig Tribal Association, Yakutat Tlingít Tribe, Petersburg Indian Association, Organized Village of Kasaan, and the Central Council of Tlingít and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA). In addition to the grant to create the partnership, Sitka Tribe of Alaska also received a second grant to create a regional lab in Sitka to help monitor HABs in Southeast Alaska.

Harmful algal blooms, such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), typically have not been monitored in Southeast Alaska for subsistence and recreational harvesters of clams, mussels, oysters, cockles, and other bivalves (commercial harvests are tested). Even though many people in Southeast Alaska love to harvest shellfish, eating it comes with some risks. There have been several PSP outbreaks in recent years that sent people to the hospital, and in 2010 two deaths were attributed to PSP and other HABs, such as Alexandrium, Pseudonitzchia and Dinophysis.

Being able to put trained monitors in several Southeast Alaska communities, the hope is the health risk can be reduced. Each technician will make weekly reports to the lab, which will help harvesters have better information as to the safety of their shellfish.

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