, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 819-837

The economic effects of harmful algal blooms in the United States: Estimates, assessment issues, and information needs

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Abstract

During the last several decades, harmful algal bloom (HAB) events have been observed in more locations than ever before throughout the United States. Scientists have identified a larger number of algal species involved in HABs, more toxins have been uncovered, and more fisheries resources have been affected. Whether this apparent increase in HAB events is a real phenomenon or is the result of increased sampling and monitoring is a topic of intense discussions within the scientific community. We also have an inchoate understanding of the reasons for the apparent increase, particularly concerning the role of anthropogenic nutrient loadings as a causal factor. Whatever the reasons, virtually all coastal regions of the U.S. are now regarded as potentially subject to a wide variety and increased frequency of HABs. It is important to begin to understand the scale of the economic costs to society of such natural hazards. It is a common, but not yet widespread, practice for resource managers and scientists in many localities to develop rough estimates of the economic effects of HAB events in terms of lost sales in the relevant product or factor markets, expenditures for medical treatments, environmental monitoring and management budgets, or other types of costs. These estimates may be invoked in policy debates, often without concern about how they were developed. Although such estimates are not necessarily good measures of the true costs of HABs to society, they may help to measure the scale of losses and be suggestive of their distribution across political jurisdictions or industry sectors. With adequate interpretation, our thinking about appropriate policy responses may be guided by these estimates. Here we compile disparate estimates of the economic effects of HABs for events in the U.S. where such effects were measured during 1987–1992. We consider effects of four basic types: public health, commercial fisheries, recreation and tourism, and monitoring and management. We discuss many of the issues surrounding the nature of these estimates, their relevance as measures of the social costs of natural hazards, and their potential for comparability and aggregation into a national estimate.