The SouthEast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) project coordinated by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska on Wednesday, May 26, issued a harmful algal bloom warning for shellfish harvested in four Southeast Alaska communities. The warning is for shellfish harvested on Starrigavan Beach in Sitka, Graveyard Beach in Craig, the Klawock Boat Launch, and Sandy Beach in Petersburg.
(Editor’s Note: On Thursday, June 2, SEATOR and the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences in Juneau announced a similar shellfish advisory for shellfish harvested on June 1 from several beaches in the Juneau area — Auke Bay, Point Louisa/Auke Rec, Amalga Harbor and Eagle Beach. For more information on Juneau, contact Elizabeth Tobin at 1-907-796- 5455 or email@example.com or Chris Whitehead of SEATOR at firstname.lastname@example.org. On June 3, SEATOR added Cloud 9 Beach in Craig to the list of beaches affected by the shellfish advisory.)
“The Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Lab (STAERL) has been collecting shellfish samples to test for biotoxins, specifically paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP),” STAERL announced in a press release. “Recent samples on May 25, 2016, confirm that clams at the following beaches have elevated levels of toxins above the FDA regulatory limit of 80µg/100g and should not be harvested at this time.”
SEATOR, the Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) partnership, and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska have been monitoring saxitoxin on Starrigavan Beach in Sitka and other beaches around Southeast Alaska since late 2014. Saxitoxin is produced by the phytoplankton Alexandrium and can get highly concentrated in shellfish, leading to paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), which can be fatal.
SEATOR posts updates and information to its website at seator.org/data, which can help provide Southeast Alaska residents with reliable information so they can choose whether or not to harvest shellfish. On May 6, SEATOR announced an advisory for shellfish harvest on Starrigavan Beach in Sitka, when it found Alexandrium in its weekly phytoplankton samples and high levels of saxitoxin in butter clams, littleneck clams, and blue mussels. Because of the high levels, SEATOR advised Sitka residents not to harvest shellfish at the time.
Since most beaches in Alaska aren’t tested for harmful algal blooms, SEATOR and the SEATT partnership were formed in October 2014 to train people to test beaches in Southeast Alaska. In April 2015, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska opened a regional lab on Katlian Street, so samples could be tested in Sitka without having to be sent to the Lower 48, which delayed results. By testing for harmful algal blooms, SEATOR and the SEATT partnership hope to be able to provide information so people can make informed choices whether or not to harvest or eat shellfish.
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, Pseudo-nitzchia and Dinophysis.
To learn more about harmful algal blooms and how they can raise the risk for PSP and ASP (amnesic shellfish poisoning, which also can be fatal), go to SEATOR’s resources page. If you have shellfish you recently harvested and want to test it, click this link to learn what you need to do to have it tested by STAERL.