Marine harmful algal blooms and phycotoxins of concern to Canada
In Canada, reports of marine harmful algal blooms (HABs) have increased over the past few decades. HABs are caused by the growth of certain phytoplankton that produce phycotoxins or otherwise cause harm. Phycotoxins are problematic to human health, and their cumulative effects are stressors to marine ecosystems by causing the mortality of marine fish, birds and mammals, including species designated at risk. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (caused by saxitoxin group toxins produced by Alexandrium spp.) has been problematic for years on both the east and west Canadian coasts. Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (caused by domoic acid produced by Pseudo-nitzschia spp.) was identified for the first time worldwide following consumption of blue mussels from eastern Canada in 1987. Domoic acid has since also been found on the west coast. Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (caused by okadaic acid group toxins produced by Dinophysis spp. and Prorocentrum spp.) was first recognized as a hazard in eastern Canadian waters in 1990, and these phycotoxins have since been found on both the east and west Canadian coasts. Other phycotoxins that may cause harm to human health in Canada include pectenotoxins, yessotoxins, azaspiracids, and cyclic imine group toxins (spirolide toxins, pinnatoxins, and gymnodimines). Multiple harmful algal species have been associated with fish-killing blooms on both east and west Canadian coasts. The range of exotic toxic/harmful algae is expanding in Canadian waters due in part to introductions from ships’ ballast water and climate change. The detection of domoic acid and the discovery of several toxigenic diatoms and dinoflagellates in the Canadian Arctic is of increasing concern because of the limited knowledge of HABs in this region. Canada’s experience in dealing with toxic events resulted in research and monitoring programs designed to understand HABs and to assist the fishing and aquaculture industries. In spite of decreases in research and phytoplankton monitoring efforts, consumers of molluscan shellfish are still protected by phycotoxin monitoring, which is conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Novel phycotoxins and toxic algae will continue to be discovered. Continued vigilance and the maintenance of an effective capacity to manage developing problems via strategic research programs is essential. This document reviews Canadian marine HABs and phycotoxins up to late 2018, and provides a foundation for any future research in this area.