Toxins from harmful algae in fish from Scottish coastal waters

Joanna L. Kershaw, Silje-kristin Jensen, Bernie Mcconnell, Shaun Fraser, Caroline Cummings, Jean-pierre Lacaze, Guillaume Hermann, Eileen Bresnan, Karl J. Dean, Andrew D. Turner, Keith Davidson, Ailsa J. Hall

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Harmful algal bloom events are increasing in a number of water bodies around the world with significant economic impacts on the aquaculture, fishing and tourism industries. As well as their potential impacts on human health, toxin exposure from harmful algal blooms (HABs) has resulted in widespread morbidity and mortality in marine life, including top marine predators. There is therefore a need for an improved understanding of the trophic transfer, and persistence of toxins in marine food webs. For the first time, the concentrations of two toxin groups of commercial and environmental importance, domoic acid (DA) and saxitoxin (including Paralytic Shellfish Toxin (PST) analogues), were measured in the viscera of 40 different fish species caught in Scotland between February and November, 2012 to 2019. Overall, fish had higher concentrations of DA compared to PSTs, with a peak in the summer / autumn months. Whole fish concentrations were highest in pelagic species including Atlantic mackerel and herring, key forage fish for marine predators including seals, cetaceans and seabirds. The highest DA concentrations were measured along the east coast of Scotland and in Orkney. PSTs showed highest concentrations in early summer, consistent with phytoplankton bloom timings. The detection of multiple toxins in such a range of demersal, pelagic and benthic fish prey species suggests that both the fish, and by extension, piscivorous marine predators, experience multiple routes of toxin exposure. Risk assessment models to understand the impacts of exposure to HAB toxins on marine predators therefore need to consider how chronic, low-dose exposure to multiple toxins, as well as acute exposure during a bloom, could lead to potential long-term health effects ultimately contributing to mortalities. The potential synergistic, neurotoxic and physiological effects of long-term exposure to multiple toxins require investigation in order to appropriately assess the risks of HAB toxins to fish as well as their predators
Original languageEnglish
Article number102068
Number of pages11
JournalHarmful Algae
Early online date19 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Jul 2021


  • Domoic acid
  • saxitoxin
  • Paralytic shellfish toxins
  • HABs
  • Risk assessment
  • Chronic exposure
  • Neurotoxins


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