Kodiak agent works with tribes to keep residents safe from PSP

closeup of clams
Butter clams. Photo by Paula Dobbyn.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) is a significant concern in Alaska, where many residents harvest clams, mussels and other bivalves for food and recreation. PSP is of particular concern in the Kodiak region, where it is prevalent.

Since 2012, Julie Matweyou, a Marine Advisory agent with Alaska Sea Grant, has been working with the communities of Old Harbor and Ouzinkie to develop and maintain a community-based shellfish monitoring program for butter clams, a preferred species for subsistence harvesters.

Harvesters generally don’t collect clams during the summer when biotoxins can reach very high levels. But some residents harvest clams during the winter even though toxin levels remain above regulatory limits. This concerns Matweyou as well as public health officials, tribes and community members who worry that people who ingest toxic shellfish may become seriously or fatally ill.

At the Alaska Forum on the Environment in Anchorage last month, Matweyou held a workshop where participants explored various methods harvesters use to remove what they consider the toxic part of the clam meat, the dark tissue that includes the black siphon tip and the gut. The effectiveness of these methods varies considerably and high toxin levels can remain in the edible meat, according to research Matweyou is conducting.

woman demonstrating a technique with a knife on a clam
Julie Matweyou led a workshop at the Alaska Forum on the Environment in Anchorage on Feb. 13, 2019, where participants explored various methods harvesters use to remove the potentially toxic part of the clam meat. Photo by Paula Dobbyn.

“After we complete the analysis, we will be working to develop appropriate messaging related to this study and will provide an informational publication for subsistence harvesters. I wanted to share our preliminary results at the Alaska Forum on the Environment using a demonstration of the butter clam cleaning methods,” she said

The Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor, Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak and the Kodiak Area Native Association assisted with the workshop and will be continuing to work with Alaska Sea Grant to address PSP concerns in the region.

Alaska Sea Grant is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

Read more about Alaska Sea Grant’s work on PSP and harmful algal blooms.