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November 16, 2009
Razor clams contaminated with domoic acid can cause illness to human consumers.
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)
A year-long shutdown in recreational razor clam digging, a major tourist attraction and local tradition in Washington state, could potentially result in as much as $22 million in lost revenue to coastal counties, according to a new report by NOAA and the University of Washington. Reduced lodging, transportation, and dining sales would also translate to a direct loss in labor income of $13.3 million to residents of affected areas, including a small commercial fishery.
Researchers found that harmful blooms of the Pseudo-nitzschia alga threaten coastal counties that depend on the tourism boom associated with the 7-8 month razor clam dig season on the state’s southwest coast. The new study estimates that during prime dig days, as many as 30,000 people - including families - take advantage of the recreational fishery.
The study also factors in a significant revenue loss for the Quinault tribe, for whom the razor clam fishery is very important to its economic well-being.
Microscopic image of Pseudo-nitzschia.
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)
“Razor clams draw tourists and locals, but harmful algal blooms - HABs - and their toxins can ruin a whole year of digs,” said Vera Trainer, Ph.D, HAB program manager at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and lead investigator with the West Coast Center for Oceans and Human Health. “NOAA-funded efforts to monitor and forecast blooms can help prevent unnecessary or excessive harvest closures, reduce public health risks, and minimize economic impacts.”
“Simultaneous, year-round beach closures for all the state’s coastal beaches is infrequent but not uncommon,” said Daniel Huppert, Ph.D., co-author of the study and professor at the University of Washington, who noted that mass closures occurred during the 1998-1999 and 2002-2003 seasons. Additionally, between 1991 and 2008, over 25 percent of razor clam fishing days were lost due to HAB events.
Forcing the harvest closures is domoic acid associated with the alga, which can accumulate in shellfish, crabs and some fish. If consumed, the toxin can cause illnesses including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. In extreme but rare cases, respiratory difficulty, seizures, coma, and even death, can occur. It is also deadly to seabirds and marine mammals.
This is one of few studies that collects and analyzes data to reveal the economic impacts of HABs on a major recreational fishery.
Findings will be announced at this week’s 5th National Symposium on Harmful Algae in the U.S. in Ocean Shores, Wash., and also be published in an upcoming issue of Harmful Algae. Support for the project was provided by NOAA’s Oceans and Human Health Initiative, the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research’s Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) program, and the National Institute for Environmental and Health Sciences.
Through its ECOHAB program, NOAA conducts and supports state-of-the-art research on HABs around the coastal U.S. to protect communities and resources. It has also worked with multiple government agencies to award competitive funds to universities to develop early warning forecast models for HABs on Pacific Northwest beaches. Partnerships like these are important steps in achieving the goals also set forward in the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health.NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.