Living laboratory to study harmful algal blooms in Puget Sound
This summer, NWFSC scientists and their colleagues have set up a mobile harmful algal bloom (HAB) lab at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratory to investigate the growth and toxicity of the fish-killing algae, Heterosigma akashiwo, in Puget Sound.
Vera Trainer (NWFSC), Charles Trick (University of Western Ontario, Canada), Mark Wells (University of Maine), and William Cochlan (San Francisco State University’s Romberg Tiburon Lab), together with their staff and students, are using an ecosystem approach to better understand the toxin and conditions that promote toxin production in order to develop strategies to mitigate the impact on farmed and wild fish.
What is Heterosigma akashiwo?
Of the flagellates present in northern Puget Sound this summer, Heterosigma akashiwo, has killed millions of aquaculture fish in Puget Sound since 1989, causing estimated losses to the aquaculture industry ranging from two to six million dollars. The extent of the damage to wild salmon is still unknown, but a negative impact on migrating young salmon has the potential to dramatically reduce returns to spawning streams. Over the past two decades, Heterosigma blooms in Southern British Columbia marine waters have been linked with poor survival of Fraser River sockeye salmon, one of the most important North American salmon runs that is shared by Canadian and U.S. fishers. Acute and chronic mortality of the juvenile salmon or food web perturbations collectively could be affecting the seaward-migrating juvenile fish.
The nature of the toxin, the mechanism by which Heterosigma kills fish with no apparent impact on other animals and humans, and the environmental factors that control its toxicity are not fully understood. This scientific uncertainty greatly hinders development of effective methodologies that ensure safe and economically secure finfish protection in Puget Sound and other regions threatened by Heterosigma. There remains more work to do and this study should help significantly in this regard.
Mobile HAB lab allows for rapid response to Heterosigma blooms
Scientists will rely on the strong collaborations throughout Puget Sound to conduct a rapid response to Heterosigma blooms in Puget Sound near Cypress Island, East Sound, Friday Harbor, Port Angeles, and Discovery Bay. A network of volunteers including fish farmers, shellfish growers, environmental learning centers, beachwatchers, Native tribes and private citizens currently conducts weekly phytoplankton monitoring that alerts researchers and managers of Heterosigma bloom locations as well as any other unusual bloom events. This partnership, called SoundToxins, communicates via a SoundHABs listserve with sampling coverage over much of Puget Sound. In particular, America Gold Seafoods, Long Live the Kings Salmon hatchery, and Rensel Associates are providing small boat and real-time logistical support to the rapid response aspect of this research project.
The study, commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms program), is expected to continue through 2013.
FRAM Acoustics Team scientist awarded NOAA Bronze Medal.