A new study has found a link between the warming Pacific Ocean and a neurotoxin that may put your next clam, scallop or crab dinner at risk.
Increased levels of domoic acid— a natural toxin that is produced by certain types of marine algae—are linked to warmer ocean conditions off the coast of Oregon and Washington and may be endangering shellfish, fish and other marine animals, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-supported research team which includes scientists from Oregon State University.
Morgaine McKibben, a Ph.D. student from Oregon State University and the lead author of the study, explained the approach the researchers took.
“We describe a completely new method to understanding and predicting toxic outbreaks on a large scale, linking domoic acid concentrations in shellfish to ocean conditions caused by warm water phases of natural climate event cycles like Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and El Nino,” McKidden said in a statement.
Domoic acid has been linked to mass deaths of marine mammals including sea lions, dolphins and whales.
Public health agencies and seafood managers are closely monitoring the toxin levels of Domoic acid, which can be harmful or even fatal if enough is consumed.
The researchers used an extensive time series of biological, chemical and physical data to create a climate-based risk analysis model that predicts where and when domoic acid in shellfish will likely exceed the regulatory thresholds.
NOAA provided research and new tools to help seafood industry managers stay ahead of the algae events that are increasing in frequency, intensity and scope. The newly created model is freely available to fisheries in Oregon, Washington and California.
“Commercial and recreational shellfish fisheries along the West Coast are a multi-million-dollar industry,” NOAA harmful algal bloom program manager Marc Suddleson, said in a statement. “Improving our ability to accurately predict algal toxin levels in shellfish supports timely and targeted fishery closures or openings, essential to avoiding economic disruption and safeguarding public health.”
According to the Fisheries of the U.S. Report 2015, domoic acid-related closures led to a decline of nearly $100 million in value for the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery.
Bill Peterson, a senior scientist at NOAA fisheries and co-author of the study, explained how the study will be utilized.
“This study will help us determine if the increased climate-ocean variability we expect will lead to more widespread outbreaks like the West Coast-wide domoic acid event of 2015-16,” Peterson said in a statement. “If so, we’ll likely see increased domoic acid effects throughout the ocean food web.”
The study was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Findings reported by McKibben and her co-authors resulted from their involvement in the NOAA funded Monitoring Oregon Coastal Harmful Algae project (2007-2012). This research was conducted by scientists with NOAA, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, with funding from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) Research Program.