Monitoring Biotoxins in Kodiak Waters

In March, KANA's environmental department began monitoring four locations on the Kodiak road system: two sites each at Near Island's Trident Basin and Mission Beach. 

Monitoring consists of weekly phytoplankton samples and phytoplankton identification along with biweekly tissue samples collected on the beaches at low tide. Samplings are sent to KANA's Tribal partners, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, where the tissue is processed and analyzed for PSP levels.  

Since beginning fieldwork in March, the presence of all three harmful algal genus types has been confirmed: 

Alexandirum—associated with paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) 

Dinophysis—associated with diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP)

Pseudo-nitzschia—associated with amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) 

In large quantities, each algal genus poses a threat to human health. As PSP is life-threatening, this project focuses on the abundance of Alexandrium in the water and the PSP toxin, saxitoxin, in shellfish tissue. 

KANA is collaborating with local and state entities to publish community advisories when levels are above the regulatory limit, especially when they reach lethal levels. 

“Please know that this monitoring project is for development of regional baseline data to discover environmental trends of these harmful species,” says Andie Wall, KANA Environmental Technician. “Traditional knowledge is being challenged as we are seeing temperatures rise and ocean chemistry change. PSP levels have been detected at concerning levels in months containing ‘r’. The only safe way of knowing if your shellfish are clean of PSP is to have them tested.”

Biotoxins are not destroyed during cooking or freezing. Pressure cooking does not destroy the toxins. There is no way to prepare shellfish infected with PSP toxins that will make them safe to eat.

Crab, because they feed on shellfish, can also become toxic. Even if the crab meat is safe, toxins tend to accumulate in crab gut and "butter" (the white-yellow fat inside the back of the shell). Clean crab thoroughly and avoid eating the crab butter and guts.

If you would like to share harvesting strategies, or are interested in volunteering, please contact Stephanie Mason or Andie Wall.

This project is supported with grant funds provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Indian General Assistance Program and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Resilience.

What is PSP?

Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) is caused by eating shellfish contaminated with saxitoxin, a toxin produced by dinoflagellates of the genus Alexandrium. Saxitoxins, also known as PSP toxins, cause symptoms related to the nervous system. PSP toxins can be found in shellfish (such as mussels, cockles, clams, scallops, oysters, crabs, and lobsters) that usually live in the colder coastal waters near the Pacific states and New England.

Symptoms usually begin within two hours of eating contaminated shellfish, but can start anywhere from 15 minutes to 10 hours after the meal.

Symptoms are generally mild and can include the following:

  • Numbness or tingling of the face, arms, and legs
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Loss of coordination
  • A floating sensation
  • Muscle paralysis and respiratory failure can occur in severe cases

In cases of severe poisoning, the Centers for Disease Control states that muscle paralysis and respiratory failure can lead to death in 2–25 hours. The risk of death from PSP is reduced if healthcare professionals have access to machines that help people breathe (ventilators) if the ill person becomes paralyzed.



Please contact our specialists with questions, concerns, or ideas:

Stephanie Mason
Environmental Coordinator

Andie Wall
Environmental Technician/NALEMP Project Assistant