The Jamestown S’Klallam, Nisqually and Stillaguamish tribes are participating in the SoundToxins monitoring program to provide early warning of harmful algal blooms (HAB) and outbreaks of bacteria that could sicken humans.
SoundToxins is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Science Center, Washington Sea Grant and the Washington Department of Health. EPA’s National Estuary Program provided funding to the project.
“We want to make sure shellfish are safe to consume, not just for tribal members, but for all seafood consumers,” said Sue Shotwell, shellfish farm manager for the Nisqually Tribe.
During the shellfish growing season from March to October, tribal natural resources staff sample seawater weekly at designated sites. Additional sites across Puget Sound are monitored for toxin-producing algae by various citizen beach watchers, shellfish farmers, educational institutions and state government agencies. The monitoring results are posted in an online database.
The SoundToxins program helps narrow down the places where shellfish should be sampled for toxins, which is more expensive and time-consuming than testing the water.
“Just because we find algae that produce toxins doesn’t necessarily mean there are toxins in the seafood, but it could mean there will be soon,” said Stillaguamish marine and shellfish biologist Franchesca Perez. “If high numbers of an HAB species are found, then a sample of the water is sent to SoundToxins for further analysis, and appropriate parties are contacted to protect consumers and growers.”
“The SoundToxins program aims to provide sufficient warning of HAB and Vibrio events to enable early or selective harvesting of seafood, thereby minimizing risks to human health and reducing economic losses to Puget Sound fisheries,” said SoundToxins program director Vera Trainer of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.