Increasing Sea Temperatures Could Lead to More Hazardous Shellfish

Key Takeaways:

  • An increase in sea temperatures, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, leads to higher levels of the harmful biotoxin domoic acid in shellfish.
  • New research has brought forth a novel method to predict and forecast these toxic outbreaks, relating to changes in the ocean’s environment due to warm water phases of climate event cycles.
  • A climate-oriented risk analysis tool has been developed using extensive biological, chemical, and physical data, which can assist fisheries in forecasting when and where domoic acid levels might rise.
  • This foresight can help in taking appropriate measures such as timely monitoring, testing, and decision-making regarding fishing activities, thus mitigating the potential risk to public health and economic disruption.
  • The study affirms the importance of predictive tools in supporting commercial and recreational shellfish fisheries, a multi-million dollar industry on the West Coast.

An abnormal increase in ocean temperatures in the US’s Pacific Northwest has been associated with perilous levels of a natural biotoxin found in shellfish, according to recent findings. Interestingly, scientists have come up with innovative methods to foresee these toxic infestations.

The biotoxin, known as domoic acid, is a byproduct of marine algae, an ocean plant organism. It tends to accumulate in sea-food, thus posing a credible risk. The consumption of this toxin can be detrimental to human health, stated the researchers.

“We have introduced a completely novel approach to understand and forecast toxic outbreaks on a comprehensive scale, connecting domoic acid levels in shellfish to sea conditions brought about by warm water phases of organic climate event cycles,” explained study author, Morgaine McKibben from Oregon State University.

These “climate event cycles” encompass phenomenons like El Nino and a comparable but enduring weather pattern named Pacific Decadal Oscillation, McKibben included.

New Climate-based Risk Analysis Tool Developed

McKibben and her colleagues effectively utilized voluminous biological, chemical, and physical data to devise a climate-oriented risk analysis tool.

The researchers noted that fisheries in Washington, Oregon, and California could employ this computer program to anticipate when and where domoic acid might escalate to undesirable levels in shellfish.

Detrimental algal blooms have led to forced closures of fisheries. Additionally, they have brought about widespread deaths among marine animals such as sea lions, dolphins, whales, and other submarine organisms.

In concurrence with restricting fishing when domoic acid levels peak to dangerous levels in shellfish, study co-author Matt Hunter, a representative of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, stated: “Early detection of when domoic acid levels are apt to surpass our public health thresholds in shellfish is immensely beneficial.”

“Departments like ours can employ this model to foresee domoic acid risks and get ready for periods of profound monitoring and testing, thus enabling us to take informed decisions and ensuring the safety of harvested crabs and shellfish,” added Hunter.

Supporting Commercial and Recreational Shellfish Fisheries

According to Marc Suddleson, harmful algal bloom program manager, “Commercial and recreational shellfish fisheries along the West Coast represent a multi-million dollar industry. Enhancing our capability to accurately predict algal toxin levels in shellfish backs timely and appropriate fishery shutdowns or openings, crucial in averting economic disruption and protecting public health.”

The novel report was made public on January 9 in the eminent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Additional Resources

For more details on domoic acid toxicity, visit The Marine Mammal Center’s page here.

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