Assessing Research Efforts and Emerging Issues Concerning Forage Fish Exposure to Paralytic Shellfish Toxins in Alaska

Harmful algal bloom (HAB) events are becoming more common in Alaska as ocean temperatures rise due to climate change. These events carry the risk of producing dangerous levels of HAB-derived toxins in the marine environment, including paralytic shellfish toxins. These toxins pose a serious threat to upper-trophic populations such as marine mammals, sea birds, and predatory fish, where a likely mechanism of delivery is through consumption of forage fish that have themselves been exposed to the toxin. Recent events occurring statewide, such as seabird die offs and marine mammal strandings, have raised concerns about this pathway, highlighting a need to better understand its mechanisms. A major gap is data-driven information regarding ecologically relevant paralytic shellfish toxin exposure levels in forage fish. This catalyst project aims to begin to address this issue by gathering preliminary data and helping primary end users, Kachemak Bay NERR and partner researchers, become better-positioned to pursue future research opportunities. 

To better position the team to pursue funding for future work that is envisioned (e.g., dosing fish with shellfish toxins in replicated experiments), the project will produce preliminary data through “proof of concept” activities and gather end user input through a series of workshops. These activities include, but are not limited to, the capture of various wild forage fish (e.g., Pacific cod, herring, sand lance), aquaculture maintenance of those fish, and successful feeding. These pilot activities will be used to hone research questions and to solidify the research plan. Kachemak Bay NERR, as the only reserve in Alaska, will provide a collaborative platform to bring the necessary expertise to the planning table, as well as engage end users for input on future research outcomes.