Vera Trainer, Nicolaus Adams, Brian Bill, and Brendan Sylvander
National Marine Fisheries Service
The team implemented an effective early warning system for harmful algal blooms for shellfish farmers, fish farmers, Native American Tribes, and State agencies—it includes a simple reporting database and real-time maps of harmful algae abundance to promote shellfish safety in the Pacific Northwest.
Washington State is a national leader in bivalve shellfish, an industry that employs more than 3,200 people and contributes an estimated $270 million to the economy. Recreation and tourism associated with shellfish harvesting account for more than $1 million in revenue for license sales and an estimated economic value of $5.4 million annually. However, coast wide shellfish harvest is often severely impacted by harmful algal blooms that are increasing in geographical distribution, type, intensity, and frequency.
Pacific Northwest state agencies and tribal co-managers were overwhelmed by the need to monitor increasing numbers of toxic algal blooms in more places, while detecting new types of toxins that had only recently been found in shellfish. The Washington State Department of Health reached out to the NWFSC Marine Biotoxin Team for assistance. As a result, in 2006, NOAA established a monitoring program to enhance Puget Sound shellfish safety, called SoundToxins. Over the past decade, this program has been optimized by NOAA staff to allow the transfer of a monitoring and mapping technology, now located on the www.soundtoxins.org website, to WA, OR, and AK state partners in 2017. SoundToxins partners include shellfish and fish farmers, environmental learning centers, community members, Native American Tribes, and state agencies who have been trained by NOAA staff to monitor for harmful algae weekly throughout Puget Sound, using protocols that have been improved over the past decade to allow for easy recording, submission, and viewing of data.
The Technology Transferred:
SoundToxins partners enter observations of harmful algae in real time into a customized database created by NOAA staff that has been refined over the last decade to make data entries easier and more accurate. NOAA staff created this user-friendly SoundToxins database, where phytoplankton abundances are converted into a “traffic light” mapping system (see figure, below) with specific abundance thresholds that enable public health officials and natural resource managers to rapidly visualize the reported data. This visualization helps to identify where toxic algal species are present so that shellfish tissue samples are immediately collected and analyzed in areas of high cell abundance (yellow and purple dots on the maps) to protect public health. State and tribal co-managers view SoundToxins maps daily, allowing them to determine where and when additional shellfish samples should be analyzed to protect public health. These managers immediately inform the commercial shellfish industry, tribes, and local health jurisdictions to take action. Once alerted, shellfish harvesters either move their operations to other growing areas or stop harvesting in the affected area. Specifically, the technology that has been transferred to state partners includes: 1) the SoundToxins monitoring program and database, and 2) the mapping system. Both are now served through the www.soundtoxins.org website, which is managed by the states (WA, AK, and OR).
Advantages the Technology Provides:
The SoundToxins partnership preserves public confidence while protecting the income of shellfish harvesters in Puget Sound, by: 1) preventing shellfish recalls; 2) identifying new toxic species, which are then added to the monitoring protocols; 3) protecting public health by promoting shellfish safety; and 4) contributing data to the Puget Sound Water Quality Monitoring Program of the Puget Sound Partnership and the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network.
The Technology Transfer Story:
The database and mapping system, initially developed by NOAA to rapidly assess the locations and risk of toxins in shellfish through real-time data entry, has expanded beyond Puget Sound to other parts of the United States, including the outer coasts of Washington, Oregon, and southeast Alaska. The SoundToxins program was established in 2006, and the transfer of the data entry and mapping system to state partners began in 2010 and was completed in 2017. These state partners include Washington Sea Grant, Washington State Department of Health, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins Partnership. State partners recently have acquired funds to support the SoundToxins activities. For a complete list of partners, including tribal co-managers of shellfish resources who are benefiting from the technology transfer, see the following websites: