Local scientists are reminding folks that eating recreationally harvested shellfish from Kodiak waters could be a deadly endeavor. Kodiak shellfish are known to harbor a naturally occurring marine biotoxin that causes Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, or PSP, which can result in respiratory arrest and failure.
Brian Himelbloom is an associate professor of Seafood Science and Technology at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center and said the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation funds a community based monitoring program that tests shellfish from various locations.
“And apparently the June samples for Old Harbor came in over 400 micrograms per 100 grams, same for Ouzinkie, and Sand Point was over 600 micrograms per 100 grams of shellfish. And the state and federal action level is only 80 micrograms, so we’re looking at five to eight times higher than what would be considered unsafe.” The high numbers aren’t surprising to Himelbloom, who considers them more of a reminder than an out of ordinary occurance.
As for the cause, Himelbloom said summer weather conditions could have contributed to the numbers, but emphasized that Kodiak has always had historically high numbers.
“You know we’re talking about nice sunny days. The organism is a photosynthetic organism so it’s soaking up the rays and growing and causing a bloom which is important because plankton are important in the ecosystem.”
In general, Himelbloom said the advice in Kodiak has long been to stay away from recreationally harvested shellfish because you can’t simply pin point which areas are prone to PSP.
“Are certain bays more susceptible to others – it’s really hard to know because there really hasn’t been a very good, well there hasn’t been any study to research the oceanography and try to understand how many of these plankton are coming up in the bloom and which ones are toxigenic. So the caution is to tell people not to consume the shellfish because there’s a chance, not always, but there’s always a chance that they might come down with paralytic shellfish poisoning.”
Kodiak is coming up on some major minus tides this week, and Himelbloom said folks should avoid the temptation of harvesting shellfish, especially knowing the test results from June. He said people should also be wary of purchasing shellfish from unreliable sources, as was the case in early June when troopers reported someone purchased clams and mussels from a garage sale.
Shellfish sold in stores or served in Alaskan restaurants are required to be purchased from certified growers who much have their products regularly tested for PSP.
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