, Volume 156, Issue 3, pp 493-504,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 07 Jan 2009

Presence of Alexandrium catenella and paralytic shellfish toxins in finfish, shellfish and rock crabs in Monterey Bay, California, USA


The central California coast is a highly productive, biodiverse region that is frequently affected by the toxin-producing dinoflagellate Alexandrium catenella. Despite the consistent presence of A. catenella along our coast, very little is known about the movement of its toxins through local marine food webs. In the present study, we investigated 13 species of commercial finfish and rock crabs harvested in Monterey Bay, California for the presence of paralytic shellfish toxins (PSTs) and compared them to the presence of A. catenella and PSTs in sentinel shellfish over a 3-year period. Between 2003 and 2005, A. catenella was noted in 55% of surface water samples (n = 307) and reached a maximum concentration of 17,387 cells L−1 at our nearshore site in Monterey Bay. Peak cell densities occurred in the month of July and were associated with elevated shellfish toxicity in the summers of 2004 and 2005. When A. catenella was present, particulate PSTs were detected 71% of the time and reached a maximum concentration of 962 ng STXeq L−1. Of the 13 species tested, we frequently detected PSTs in Pacific sardines (Sardinops sagax; maximum 250 μg STXeq 100 g−1), northern anchovies (Engraulis mordax; maximum 23.2 μg STXeq 100 g−1), brown rock crabs (Cancer antennarius; maximum 49.3 μg STXeq 100 g−1) and red rock crabs (C. productus; 23.8 μg STXeq 100 g−1). PSTs were also present in one sample of Pacific herring (Clupea pallas; 13.3 μg STXeq 100 g−1) and one sample of English sole (Pleuronectes vetulus; 4.5 μg STXeq 100 g−1), and not detected in seven other species of flatfish tested. The presence of PSTs in several of these organisms reveals that toxins produced by A. catenella are more prevalent in California food webs than previously thought and also indicates potential routes of toxin transfer to higher trophic levels.

Communicated by U.-G. Berninger.