Paralytic shellfish toxin warning issued for Sitka’s North Starrigavan Beach and other Southeast beaches

The SouthEast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) project, SouthEast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) partnership and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Lab (STAERL) on Monday, June 5, issued an advisory warning that people should not eat molluscan shellfish (bivalves such as clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, geoducks, cockles, etc.) harvested at North Starrigavan Beach North in Sitka.

This is one of several recent advisory warnings issued by SEATOR about elevated levels of the paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins above the FDA regulatory limit of 80µg/100g. Recent warnings have been issued for all species of molluscan shellfish at three beaches in Ketchikan (with extremely high levels that could be deadly), Metlakatla, Craig, Kodiak and Hoonah. There also are species-specific warnings issued in Klawock and Skagway.

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.

The PSP advisories are for bivalve shellfish that have been recreationally or subsistence harvested. It does not apply to commercially harvested shellfish, which are tested before they enter the market. The advisory does not apply to other shellfish, such as crabs or shrimp, which do not carry PSP (unless you eat the crab butter or viscera).

The warnings, according to SEATOR, “This does not ‘certify’ any of our monitored sites. Conditions may change rapidly and data is site-specific. Caution should always be taken prior to harvesting.”

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. In addition to testing water samples weekly from certain Southeast beaches, STAERL also tests samples of butter clams, littleneck clams, and blue mussels (which is STAERL’s indicator species, because of how quickly blue mussels absorb saxotoxins).

In addition to the saxitoxins that cause PSP, the lab in Sitka has been monitoring for other blooms that cause amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). PSP and ASP can cause severe health problems, including death in some cases.

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.

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 or watch this video. SEATOR also has a new Facebook page, where people can find updates. Please contact STAERL at 747-7395 with any additional questions.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) advisory lifted for Starrigavan Beach North in Sitka, but others remain

snapshotseatorshellfish11172016

The SouthEast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) project, SouthEast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) partnership and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Lab (STAERL) on Thursday, Nov. 17, lifted an advisory warning that people should not eat molluscan shellfish (bivalves such as clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, geoducks, cockles, etc.) harvested at Starrigavan Beach North in Sitka.

However, the recent harmful algal bloom warning for the Sitka Sound Science Center Beach remains in place. There also have been new warnings issued on Wednesday, Nov. 16, for Gartina/Harbor Way Beach in Hoonah and the Annette Island/Moss Point and Sand Bar beaches in Metlakatla.

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. (Photo by Emily Kwong, KCAW-Raven Radio)

Samples harvested by STAERL at Starrigavan Beach North on Monday, Oct. 31, had elevated levels of the paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins above the FDA regulatory limit of 80µg/100g. When samples were taken on Monday, Nov. 14, the toxin levels had dropped below the regulatory limit, which allowed SEATOR to lift the advisory, which includes little-neck clams, butter clams and cockle clams.

The Sitka Sound Science Center Beach advisory is based on shellfish harvested on Oct. 24. Molluscan shellfish from this site should not be harvested at this time. The Hoonah and Metlakatla advisories are based on shellfish harvested on Monday, Nov. 14, having PSP toxins above the FDA regulatory limit.

The PSP advisories are for bivalve shellfish that have been recreationally or subsistence harvested. It does not apply to commercially harvested shellfish, which are tested before they enter the market. The advisory does not apply to other shellfish, such as crabs or shrimp, which do not carry PSP (unless you eat the crab butter or viscera).

There have been several harmful algal bloom alerts released by SEATOR this summer, but this recent announcement is a good reminder that PSP can happen throughout the year. It also discredits the myth that you don’t have to worry about shellfish harvested in months containing an R.

According to SEATOR, “This does not ‘certify’ any of our monitored sites. Conditions may change rapidly and data is site-specific. Caution should always be taken prior to harvesting.”

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

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. In addition to testing water samples weekly from certain Southeast beaches, STAERL also tests samples of butter clams, littleneck clams, and blue mussels (which is STAERL’s indicator species, because of how quickly blue mussels absorb saxotoxins).

In addition to the saxitoxins that cause PSP, the lab in Sitka has been monitoring for other blooms that cause amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). PSP and ASP can cause severe health problems, including death in some cases.

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 or watch this video. SEATOR also has a new Facebook page, where people can find updates. Please contact STAERL at 747-7395 with any additional questions.

New harmful algal bloom warning issued for shellfish harvested in Starrigavan Beach North in Sitka

snapshotpspadvisory

The SouthEast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) project, SouthEast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) partnership and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Lab (STAERL) on Friday, Nov. 4, issued a warning that people should not eat molluscan shellfish (bivalves such as clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, geoducks, cockles, etc.) harvested at Starrigavan Beach North in Sitka. There also is a recent harmful algal bloom warning for the Sitka Sound Science Center Beach.

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. (Photo by Emily Kwong, KCAW-Raven Radio)

Samples at Starrigavan Beach North harvested Oct. 31 had elevated levels of the paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins above theFDA regulatory limit of 80µg/100g. The Sitka Sound Science Center Beach advisory is based on shellfish harvested on Oct. 24. Molluscan shellfish from these sites should not be harvested at this time.

The PSP advisory is for bivalve shellfish that have been recreationally or subsistence harvested. It does not apply to commercially harvested shellfish, which are tested before they enter the market. The advisory does not apply to other shellfish, such as crabs or shrimp, which do not carry PSP (unless you eat the crab butter or viscera).

There have been several harmful algal bloom alerts released by SEATOR this summer, but this recent announcement is a good reminder that PSP can happen throughout the year. It also discredits the myth that you don’t have to worry about shellfish harvested in months containing an R.

According to SEATOR, “This does not ‘certify’ any of our monitored sites. Conditions may change rapidly and data is site-specific. Caution should always be taken prior to harvesting.”

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

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. In addition to testing water samples weekly from certain Southeast beaches, STAERL also tests samples of butter clams, littleneck clams, and blue mussels (which is STAERL’s indicator species, because of how quickly blue mussels absorb saxotoxins).

In addition to the saxitoxins that cause PSP, the lab in Sitka has been monitoring for other blooms that cause amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). PSP and ASP can cause severe health problems, including death in some cases.

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 or watch this video. SEATOR also has a new Facebook page, where people can find updates. Please contact STAERL at 747-7395 with any additional questions.

New harmful algal bloom warnings issued for shellfish harvested in Starrigavan Beach, other SE beaches

SEATORPSPWarningAug17

The SouthEast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) project, SouthEast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) partnership and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Lab (STAERL) on Wednesday, Aug. 17, issued a warning that people should not eat shellfish harvested at Starrigavan Beach in Sitka and Hydaburg Beach in Hydaburg.

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 in 2015. (Photo by Emily Kwong, KCAW-Raven Radio)

Samples harvested Aug. 17 at those beaches showed the presence of Alexandrium, a phytoplankton that produces saxitoxins that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). Mulluscan shellfish (bivalve shellfish such as clams, mussels, oysters, cockles, scallops, etc.) from these sites should not be harvested at this time.

In addition, mulluscan shellfish from Hydaburg Beach on Aug. 17 tested near or above the regulatory limit of 80μg/100g for saxitoxins and all species of mulluscan shellfish should not be harvested at this time. On Aug. 18, butter clams from Shoemaker Beach in Wrangell tested near or above the regulatory limit of 80μg/100g for saxitoxins and should not be harvested at this time.

The PSP advisory is for bivalve shellfish that have been recreationally or subsistence harvested. It does not apply to commercially harvested shellfish, which are tested before they enter the market. The advisory does not apply to other shellfish, such as crabs or shrimp, which do not carry PSP (unless you eat the crab butter or viscera).

There have been several harmful algal bloom alerts released by SEATOR this summer, but it’s the first one in about a month or so for Sitka. In addition to the saxitoxins that cause PSP, the lab in Sitka has been monitoring for other blooms that cause amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). PSP and ASP can cause severe health problems, including death in some cases.

According to SEATOR, “This does not ‘certify’ any of our monitored sites. Conditions may change rapidly and data is site-specific. Caution should always be taken prior to harvesting.”

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

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. In addition to testing water samples weekly from certain Southeast beaches, STAERL also tests samples of butter clams, littleneck clams, and blue mussels (which is STAERL’s indicator species, because of how quickly blue mussels absorb saxotoxins).

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. Please contact STAERL at 747-7395 with any additional questions.

Harmful algal bloom expands PSP advisory to several Southeast Alaska beaches

SEATORDataUpdate06102016

Seator-Logo-Best-June-30-2015-7pm-215x215The SouthEast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) project, SouthEast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) partnership and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Lab (STAERL) have expanded a recent paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) advisory to include more beaches in Southeast Alaska.

The advisory, initially announced on May 26, now includes multiple beaches in Sitka, Juneau, Craig, Petersburg, and Klawock. The PSP advisory is for bivalve shellfish — such as clams, mussels, oysters, cockles, scallops, geoducks, etc. — that have been recreationally or subsistence harvested. It does not apply to commercially harvested shellfish, which are tested before they enter the market. The advisory does not apply to other shellfish, such as crabs or shrimp, which do not carry PSP (unless you eat the crab butter/viscera).

According to a SEATOR press release, “Recent samples on June 6 confirmed elevated levels of Alexandrium, the phytoplankton species that produces saxtoxins causing PSP, have been observed at the following locations and shellfish from these sites should not be harvested at this time.” The affected beaches from June 6 are Auke Bay, Amalga Harbor, Eagle Beach, and Auke Rec beaches in Juneau; Cloud 9 and Graveyard beaches in Craig; Starrigavan beach in Sitka; and the Boat Ramp beach in Klawock.

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

In addition, the press release said, “On June 9 shellfish from the following sites tested above the regulatory limit of 80µg/100g for saxitoxins and should not be harvested at this time.” The June 9 list of beaches includes Sandy Beach in Petersburg (butter clams only); Auke Bay, Amalga Harbor, Eagle Beach, and Auke Rec beaches in Juneau; Aleutkina Bay, No Through Fare Bay, Magoun Islands, and Starrigavan (butter clams only) beaches in Sitka; and the Boat Ramp beach in Klawock. The advisory is for all shellfish on all beaches, except where noted.

According to SEATOR, “This does not ‘certify’ any of our monitored sites. Conditions may change rapidly and data is site-specific. Caution should always be taken prior to harvesting.”

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. In addition to testing water samples weekly from certain Southeast beaches, STAERL also tests samples of butter clams, littleneck clams, and blue mussels (which is STAERL’s indicator species because of how quickly blue mussels absorb saxotoxins).

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. Please contact STAERL at 747-7395 with any additional questions.

• June 10, 2016, press release about PSP advisory for Southeast Alaska

Harmful algal bloom warning listed for shellfish harvested at Sitka, Craig, Klawock and Petersburg

Clam diggers work the beach at Starrigavan in this file photo. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is warning Sitkans against harvesting clams in the area due to a harmful algae detected Monday, June 8, 2015. (Daily Sitka Sentinel file photo by James Poulson)

Clam diggers work the beach at Starrigavan in this file photo. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is warning Sitkans against harvesting clams in the area due to a harmful algae detected Tuesday, May 25, 2016. (Daily Sitka Sentinel file photo by James Poulson)

Seator-Logo-Best-June-30-2015-7pm-215x215The 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 edtobin@alaska.edu or Chris Whitehead of SEATOR at chris.whitehead@sitkatribe-nsn.gov. 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.”

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

The butter clam has one set of rings that go one direction only, around the same center point (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

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.

• Press release about shellfish advisory, May 26, 2016

• Joint SEATOR/UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Studies press release about Juneau shellfish advisory, June 2, 2016

• June 3, 2016, SEATOR press release updating the list of affected beaches

Harmful algal bloom warning listed for shellfish harvested at Starrigavan Beach

SEATORShellfishTestingLevels

The SouthEast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) project coordinated by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska on Friday, May 6, issued a harmful algal bloom warning for shellfish harvested on Starrigavan Beach in Sitka.

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.

According to SEATOR, “during our weekly phytoplankton sample last week, we noticed our first Alexandrium of the year. Immediately after, we tested saxitoxin levels in butter clams, littleneck clams and blue mussels, and found them all to have elevated levels of saxitoxin. We do not recommend that Sitkans harvest shellfish at this time, and ask them to look on seator.org/data for additional updates and information.”

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.

• New biotoxin lab in Sitka allows for quicker, better monitoring of harmful algal blooms in Southeast Alaska

MichaelJamrosChrisWhiteheadEstherKennedyJohnDorothyOrbisonDeanOrbison

From left, Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Lab Manager Michael Jamros, STA Environmental Program Manager Chris Whitehead, and STA Environmental Specialist Esther Kennedy discuss the new Sitka Biotoxin Lab with visitors to an open house on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. The new lab will help Southeast subsistence and sport shellfish harvesters learn about harmful algal blooms in the region so they can avoid paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) or amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP).

Most shellfish eaters are aware of the massive algal bloom that shut down many shellfish operations on the Pacific Coast this summer. The algal bloom even reached Sitka’s Starrigavan Beach with the June discovery of Pseudo-nitzchia, a species of plankton that sometimes produces domoic acid which can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). ASP causes gastrointestinal issues in mild cases, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. In more severe cases there will be neurological problems, such as headaches, confusion, hallucinations, short-term memory loss, respiratory difficulty, seizures, coma, and in extreme cases, death.

SEAKTribalToxinsSEATTPartnerLocationsUntil two years ago, Southeast Alaska beaches and subsistence- and sport-harvested shellfish weren’t tested for harmful biotoxins. That changed with the Southeast Alaska Tribal Testing (SEATT) program, a partnership of regional tribes coordinated by Sitka Tribe of Alaska, that began training technicians from six villages (now 12 villages) in the region on how to gather water samples so they could be tested. SEATT is part of a program called Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR).

Now the project has moved to the next phase, the creation of a Sitka Biotoxin Lab, located at 429 Katlian Street, that can provide quicker and better testing results to people in the region who want to eat shellfish. Instead of sending samples to the Lower 48 for testing, which can take more than a week or two, samples from Southeast Alaska can be tested in Sitka and data can be available in less than 24 hours, Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Program Manager Chris Whitehead said during an open house at the lab on Monday, Nov. 30. Before the lab opened, the program just took water samples. But now it will be able to actually test the shellfish for biotoxins.

Whitehead said one of the purposes of the lab is to give shellfish harvesters as much information as possible about possible harmful algal blooms so they can make informed decisions about if they still want to harvest and eat local shellfish. Harmful algal blooms spread a variety of biotoxins, such as domoic acid and saxitoxin, which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). PSP and ASP can be deadly, and in 2010 there were two people in Southeast Alaska who died from PSP.

Cockles-Alaska-Department-of-Health-and-Social-Services“The toxins can stay in butter clams for 2 1/2 to three years,” Whitehead said, disproving the common local myth that shellfish is safe to eat in months with R in the name. “We’re still seeing blooms in December.”

Whitehead said he’s hoping to eventually be able to do baseline sampling of a variety of beaches in Southeast Alaska. He said they are sampling bays for cyst beds by digging cores in the beach soil, and they’ve found cysts 3-4 meters (9-13 feet) below the surface. While the beach might be safe for now, if people start building piers or docks it can stir up the cyst beds and launch a harmful algal bloom.

The lab and testing program is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Indian Environmental General Assistance Program, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Tribal Cooperative Landscape Conservation Program, and the Administration for Native Americans’Environmental Regulatory Enhancement program. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Biotoxin Programs from Seattle, Wash., and Charleston, S.C., provided training through workshops to help develop the SEATT program.

raw-clams-350Michael Jamros, PhD, was hired in October as the STA Environmental Lab Manager, and he will be handling most of the actual testing and diagnosis of the seawater and shellfish. He said right now the lab is focused on subsistence and sports harvests, but down the road it’s hoping to become FDA-certified so it can test commercial harvests.

Esther Kennedy is the STA Environmental Specialist, and she said “every week I go plankton hunting.” This summer all of her tests were at Starrigavan State Recreation Area, but now that the lab is open she will be able to test in more areas, “wherever you think people might harvest shellfish.”

pe-fig1“I think this will help our food security,” Kennedy said. “People will be able to see this abundant resource of shellfish, and now they’ll have better information about whether it’s safe to harvest.”

In addition to the Sitka staff, the program also trains monitors from 12 partner villages to test in their areas, which range from Ketchikan on the south to Yakutat on the north. These monitors come to Sitka twice a year for training, with their most recent training in early November. A slideshow of photos from the training is posted below.

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• Harmful algal bloom warning issued for shellfish harvested in Starrigavan Beach

Clam diggers work the beach at Starrigavan in this file photo. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is warning Sitkans against harvesting clams in the area due to a harmful algae detected Monday, June 8, 2015. (Daily Sitka Sentinel file photo by James Poulson)

Clam diggers work the beach at Starrigavan State Recreation Area in this file photo. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is warning Sitkans against harvesting clams in the area due to a harmful algae detected Monday, June 8, 2015. (Daily Sitka Sentinel file photo by James Poulson)

Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) on Monday, June 8, issued a warning that people should not be eating shellfish harvested at Starrigavan Beach in Sitka.

Pseudo-nitzchia“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.

• 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.