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  • Clear and present danger: monitoring and management of lipophilic shellfish toxins in Washington State


Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Environmental and Fisheries Sciences EFS - Marine Microbes and Toxins


Lipophilic toxins in WA
Clear and present danger: monitoring and management of lipophilic shellfish toxins in Washington State
Lipophilic shellfish toxins comprise an extensive suite of compounds including those associated with the human syndromes known as diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) and azaspiracid shellfish poisoning (AZP). As a result of recent bloom events and subsequent human intoxications in Washington State (USA) due to DSP, there is a critical and urgent need for State public health officials to be able to monitor and accurately quantify harmful algal bloom (HAB) species associated with DSP and azaspiracid shellfish poisoning (AZP) and their toxins. There is now evidence that lipophilic toxins associated with DSP and AZP are present in water and/or shellfish, including oysters and mussels from Puget Sound and razor clams from the WA coast.Tight partnership with WDOH, the SoundToxins program, Olympic Region Harmful Algal Blooms (ORHAB) partnership, and Puget Sound shellfish growers (including the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe and other tribal representatives) will facilitate the study of the seasonal variability of lipophilic toxins and toxin-producing species at 10 geographically-distinct sites within Washington State waters where seawater or shellfish have recently been contaminated with these toxins. Stakeholder support throughout the project will ensure the transition of this project to the State at the end of 3 years as we have successfully demonstrated with ORHAB. Implementing routine lipophilic biotoxin monitoring will be a critical first step towards ensuring public safety while also enabling Washington State shellfish growers to sell their product to the European Union once trade is re-established.

Research Themes

Sustainable, safe and secure seafood for healthy populations and vibrant communities
Effective fisheries management provides economic opportunities and ensures the long-term sustainability of fisheries and the habitats on which they depend. The NWFSC seeks to improve the quality and quantity of data used in stock assessments, the methods for assessing stocks and ecosystem sustainability within the context of human modification of the environment. The NWFSC also provides state-of-the-art science and technology to support aquaculture while protecting and maintaining ecosystem health. Further, pathogens, toxins from harmful algal blooms (HABs), chemical contaminants and other stressors of marine ecosystems pose significant risks to health of both seafood resources and to humans. The NWFSC focuses on research to improve understanding of those risks, how to forecast them, and identify means to mitigate their impacts.

Research Foci

Provide scientific support to ensure safe seafood for healthier populations and characterize how human activities and climate affect risks from pathogens, chemical contaminants, and biotoxins
The availability of nutritious and safe seafood from marine ecosystems and aquaculture are essential to maintain and maximize human health. Even though fish are known to have a variety of health benefits, some seafood (wild or farmed) may contain levels of toxic compounds (e.g., chemical contaminants, pathogens, biotoxins) from a variety of human-related and natural sources that can pose health risks to humans, especially for those groups with high rates of seafood consumption. The development of novel methods and technologies to assess seafood safety and biological effects of these toxic compounds remains a priority for commercial, subsistence and recreational consumption of seafood. For example, several species (e.g., zebrafish, sea lions, shellfish) are excellent indicators of environmental stress and potential health threats to marine species and humans. These species can serve as informative animal models for investigations of the mechanisms of toxicity or disease processes. Specific research goals include (1) improve methods for monitoring for the presence of pathogens, toxins and contaminants in seafood products, (2) characterize the environmental and climate conditions that may be favorable for potential biotoxin and pathogen outbreaks, (3) develop technologies to remove chemical contaminants from fish feed and to enhance the nutritional content of aquaculture products, (4) develop a better understanding of the net economic and health benefits of seafood consumption balanced with the risk of exposure to pathogens, toxins and contaminants, and (5) develop new mechanistic animal models for the study of infectious diseases, as well as toxicological, physiological, and biochemical processes relevant to marine animal and human health.


toxins produced by some Azadinium species
Diarrhetic shellfish toxins
Toxins produced by some species of the genus Dinophysis
Genus that contains species capable of producing diarrhetic shellfish toxins
biologically produced toxin
branch of science that deals with the identification of the substances of which matter is composed
marine toxin
toxins produced by certain species of marine phytoplankton
toxic effects
changes in physical, physiological, or biological processes caused by a substance in an organism


None associated


Genus Azadinium
Genus Dinophysis


Bich-Thuy Eberhart
Brian Bill
Catherine Sloan
Internal Collaborator
Denis Da Silva
Internal Collaborator
Gina Ylitalo
Internal Collaborator
Nicolaus Adams
Penelope Xian
Vera Trainer
Principal Investigator