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  • West Coast Toxic Pseudo-nitzschia bloom


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


West Coast Domoic Acid Event
West Coast Toxic Pseudo-nitzschia bloom
Beginning in the spring of 2015 the US West Coast began to experience the most wide-spread toxic Pseudo-nitzschia bloom to date, after approximately eight years without a toxic bloom event. Some species of Pseudo-nitzschia produce the neurotoxin domoic acid, which can have deleterious effects on marine wildlife (e.g. mammals and seabirds) as well as human consumers of food items (e.g. shellfish, crabs, sardines, anchovies) that are contaminated with the toxin. This multi-agency project aims to survey the bloom region, which stretches from southern California into the Gulf of Alaska, on the greatest spatial and temporal extent possible. Goals of the survey are to identify the extent of the bloom, the concentration of domoic acid in the bloom, the Pseudo-nitzschia species responsible for the toxicity, and the relationship of the bloom event to prevailing oceanographic and atmospheric conditions. The survey will allow for the creation of maps showing the spatial extent and concentrations of domoic acid, Pseudo-nitzschia, and oceanographic parameters such as temperature and salinity. The data collected from the survey will inform inferences as to the cause(s) of the toxic event. The effort will employ targeted research cruises, cruises of opportunity, and shore based sampling. Samples will be analyzed for marine toxins, harmful algal species, and other environmental and oceanographic parameters using state-of-the-art methodologies.

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.


genus of harmful microalgae that produces domoic acid
SaKe Survey
biologically produced toxin
marine toxin
toxins produced by certain species of marine phytoplankton


None associated


Genus Pseudo-nitzschia


Bich-Thuy Eberhart
Brian Bill
Nicolaus Adams
Penelope Xian
Vera Trainer
Principal Investigator