“Yes, we are seeing a bloom of Pseudo-nitszchia. This species of plankton can produce domoic acid which can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP),” Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Program Manager Chris Whitehead said.
Whitehead is coordinating SEATOR and the Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) partnership program where seven tribes in Southeast Alaska are partnering to test shellfish for harmful algal booms that can cause problems such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) or other health issues. The SEATT partnership program and SEATOR were launched a little bit over a year ago because there is no harmful algal bloom testing of Southeast beaches by the state, even though there had been many recent cases of PSP outbreaks that resulted in people being hospitalized or even dying.
According to the SEATOR website, Pseudo-nitzchia spp is a genus of diatoms found worldwide. In North America, it can be found on the Pacific Northwest Coast from Alaska to mid-California, the Northeast Atlantic Coast of Canada, in North Carolina, and in the Gulf of Mexico. Domoic acid is a neurotoxin that binds glutamate receptors, which are involved in memory processing.
Amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) causes gastrointestinal and neurologic issues. Mild cases usually occur within 24 hours after eating shellfish exposed to the ASP toxin. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. In more severe cases there also will be neurological problems, such as headaches, confusion, hallucinations, short-term memory loss, respiratory difficulty, seizures, coma, and in extreme cases, death.
According to a recent story from Oregon Public Broadcasting’s KUOW/EarthFix program, there currently is a massive harmful algal bloom extending from Homer, Alaska, on the north to Monterey Beach, Calif., in the south. In addition to impacting shellfish, the toxic harmful algal bloom has caused problems in fish and marine mammals that ate infected shellfish.
If you recently have eaten shellfish harvested in the Starrigavan State Recreation Area and have any of the above symptoms, you should seek medical help immediately.