OLYMPIA - Until 1991, few clam diggers on the Washington coast had ever heard of domoic acid, a marine toxin that can cause serious illness or even death. Today, toxin levels are as critical to planning razor clam digs as the tides, requiring constant testing and occasional beach closures since domoic acid was first detected in state waters 13 years ago.
What causes these outbreaks of domoic acid? What procedures are in place to protect public health? What are scientists doing to find the source of the problem?
Answers to these and other questions about domoic acid can be found in a new article in Fish and Wildlife Science Magazine, an online journal posted on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's (WDFW) website.
Drawing on the findings of marine scientists from several state and federal agencies, the article examines the effect domoic acid has had on the razor clam fishery, coastal economies and human health. It also discusses new ongoing efforts by WDFW and its research partners to monitor toxic outbreaks and find their cause.
"Although no one in Washington has died from domoic acid poisoning, the health risks are still very real," said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. "In addition, beach closures resulting from high toxin levels have taken a heavy toll on coastal recreation and on the economic vitality of coastal communities."
Ayres noted that the season-long razor clam closure in 2002-03 - the last time domoic acid shut down an entire year's dig - affected tens of thousands of diggers and cost coastal communities an estimated $12 million in tourism revenue. Coastal tribes also lost important commercial and subsistence fisheries for more than a year.
"Fortunately, the toxin-related closures we've seen this season have been isolated to one or two beaches, and have been fairly brief," Ayres said. "But they are a reminder that domoic acid is an ongoing problem that everyone who digs razor clams in this state needs to take seriously."
Other new additions to Fish and Wildlife Science Magazine include stories on a study of mountain goats in the Cascade Range and the transfer of 41 elk from the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area in Cowlitz County to the North Cascades.