Saturday, December 1, 2007

What to do about the tide?

“And all the waters that were in the river turned to blood. And the fish that were in the river died, and the water stank". The naturally occurring phenomenon known as red tide has been present as early as recorded in Exodus, the 10 plaques of Egypt. Even thought the exact marine conditions are unknown, red tide occurs through rapid division of microscopic algae, Karenia brevis, causing a dense accumulation that result in a generally red discoloration. These algae include marine dinoflagellates produce biotoxins that contaminate bivalve shellfish and affect the central nervous system of fish resulting in paralysis and eventual death. These contaminations have had a direct link to any seafood enthusiasts who like to “mow’ down on these tasty dishes. So, how do we help our “shellfish-loving” friends?
The Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program was established by the federal government that ensures the safe consumption of shellfish. This program is comprised of three federal government agencies. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for the monitoring of biotoxins in the shellfish in the designated harvesting areas. They register and inspect potential contaminated fish and shellfish at specialized processing plants. Along with Health Canada, the food safety guideline for contaminates in foods are established. Environment Canada assists by providing water quality analysis in the harvesting grounds for shellfish and identifies waters that do not meet standards. The third federal agency, Department of Fisheries and Oceans patrols and closes harvesting areas where toxin levels exceed safety standards. The program mandates the direct sampling of shellfish and the analysis for a variety of toxins. These testing sites throughout Canada regularly tests for toxins in designated harvesting areas.
The Canadian National Research Council is in the process of developing analytical technologies (that’s right…go ACB) that can provide early warning signs of upcoming red tide events. These technologies have the ability to detect the toxins in the shellfish and the toxic algae in the water. These future methods may be used to cease shellfish harvesting before contamination. The toxins can be eliminated if the contaminated shellfish are left in the ocean and the toxic algae have left the area.
The National Research Council has also made progress on a completely separate level in regards to shellfish genetics. Researchers have recently identified mutations in soft-shell clams. These mutations establish immunity to toxins allowing a high toxin level. The soft-shell clams that do not have this immunity can only tolerate much lower levels of toxins. Imagine if the genetic characteristics of low toxin tolerance can be transferred to the other shellfish? Researchers believe this would provide a viable solution for the future for both human safety and economic prosperity.
Bottom line is that you definitely do not have to give up your shellfish, just be aware and eat with care. Also, we now know that once graduated with the ACB program you have the potential to contribute to this red tide dilemma.
Giddy Up!

1 comment:

Dominic B. said...

Without your permission, I added the link to the ACB (Applied Chemistry and Biotechnology) program at Camosun...I am sure you do not mind a little marketing for your beloved program!