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Marine Biotoxin Workshop

photo of mussels
Can seals predict human illness? Integrating wildlife and environmental information with shellfish marine biotoxin data for public health purposes: a one-health workshop

The Marine Biotoxin Workshop took place on October 24-25, 2016 at the Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier in North Vancouver.

Last summer (2015), high levels of domoic acid (DA), a neurologic toxin, were reported in BC shellfish. This led to the closure of commercial shellfish beds and the imposition of restrictions on self-harvesting by First Nations. Given the high reported levels of these biotoxins, there is a concern that populations in BC who engage in self-harvesting of wild shellfish and/or consume large quantities of shellfish may be at risk of toxic exposures. In the absence of regular and broad-based monitoring of shellfish along BC’s coasts, an alternative would be to utilize information about marine wildlife mortality or illness events that may have been caused by marine biotoxins; data would be gathered by agencies and institutions focusing on the marine environment and by coastal communities. 

  • To explore the potential sources of data on environmental factors, wildlife mortality events or unusual findings that may be associated with marine biotoxins or other hazards of public health relevance.

  • To discuss potential avenues for collaboration between organizations or communities that collect such data, including data-sharing agreements, that would allow the subsequent development of suitable indicators for these hazards to be derived from the data. 


This workshop brought together environmental and wildlife marine scientists, researchers, representatives from First Nations, public health, industry, provincial, public and federal stakeholders.

The workshop explored the available sources of non-traditional and augmented monitoring data that could be used to identify risks derived from marine biotoxins, which affect the marine ecosystem and potentially affect human seafood consumers. 

  1. What is the relationship between sea temperatures and shellfish toxins – is there any possibility of modelling risk, based on environmental indicators?  
  2. Is the current monitoring of algal blooms sufficient to cover coastal areas where harvesting occurs? 
  3. Are sampling results based strictly on food production systems appropriate to cover the whole spectrum of shellfish consumed? 
  4. What marine wildlife monitoring might be useful? What testing is carried out on wildlife mortalities?
  5. Are these events good predictors of the risk to shellfish harvesters?
  6. What are the long-term effects of fairly continuous low dose exposure to marine biotoxins? Is this adequately considered within the context of our current food guidance?
  7. Are the traditional/current diets of First Nations peoples adequately considered in risk assessment information? What do we know about current shellfish consumption by First Nations in coastal areas?
  8. How best to communicate risk regarding traditional diets? Do area closures really make a difference for self-harvesters?
  9. Do the sampling programs provide a robust enough sample to provide assurance that levels of biotoxins in food are below Canadian guidelines?
  10. What organizations would be interested in participating in a data-sharing network?
The following are the speaker presentations from the workshop, in order presented: 

  1. Dr. Tom Kosatsky - Overview: populations impacts and recent observations
  2. Ross Wilson - Metlakatla First Nation: Communal Harvest Plan for Bivalves
  3. Dr. Reza Afshari - Domoic Acid Exposure Among the First Nation Population in BC
  4. Dr. Ian Perry - Recent Environmental Conditions in southern BC Marine waters, and Unusual Algal Blooms
  5. Dr. Laurie Chan - The importance of shellfish in the traditional diet of First Nation Communities: findings from the First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study
  6. Dr. Kathi Lefebvre - Health Effects of Domoic Acid in Mammals (presentation unavailable as much of the work presented has not yet been published)                  Dr. Kathi Lefebvre et. al (2017) - Chronic low-level exposure to the common seafood toxin domoic acid courses cognitive deficits in mice. Harmful Algae 64: 20-29 
  7. Dr. Martin Haulena - Epidemiology and Clinical Signs Associated with Acute and Long Term Effects of Domoic Acid Toxicity in Marine Mammals Along the West Coast of North America
  8. Nicky Haigh - Phytoplankton Sampling and Its Role in Marine Biotoxin Monitoring
  9. Dr. Vera Trainer - An unprecedented coastwide toxic algal bloom linked to anomalous ocean conditions
  10. Lara Hoshizaki - The Coastal First Nations' Regional Monitoring System
  11. Linda Pillsworth - Local Environmental Observer Network: the eyes, ears and voice of environmental change
  12. Svetlana Esenkulova - Monitoring of Harmful Algal Blooms in the Strait of Georgia by a Citizen Science Program

This workshop was made possible with support from:

  • BC Centre for Disease Control
  • BCCDC Foundation for Public Health
  • First Nations Health Authority
  • BC Government
SOURCE: Marine Biotoxin Workshop ( )
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