Many communities in Southeast Alaska harvest shellfish such as mussels and clams as an important part of a subsistence or traditional diet. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) of phytoplankton such as Alexandrium spp. produce toxins that can accumulate in shellfish tissues to concentrations that can pose a hazard for human health. Since 2013, several tribal governments and communities have pooled resources to form the Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) network, with the goal of minimizing risks to seafood harvest and enhancing food security. SEATOR monitors toxin concentrations in shellfish and collects and consolidates data on environmental variables that may be important predictors of toxin levels such as sea surface temperature and salinity. Data from SEATOR are publicly available and are encouraged to be used for the development and testing of predictive algorithms that could improve seafood risk assessment in Southeast Alaska. To date, more than 1700 shellfish samples have been analyzed for paralytic shellfish toxins (PSTs) in more than 20 locations, with potentially lethal concentrations observed in blue mussels (Mytilus trossulus) and butter clams (Saxidomus gigantea). Concentrations of PSTs exhibit seasonality in some species, and observations of Alexandrium are correlated to sea surface temperature and salinity; however, concentrations above the threshold of concern have been found in all months, and substantial variation in concentrations of PSTs remain unexplained.
Keywords: community-based participatory research; environmental health; oceans and seas; paralytic shellfish poisoning; prevention; primary.