- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

SITKA, Alaska (AP) - The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is planning to build a lab to test shellfish for naturally occurring toxins that could pose a health threat to subsistence harvesters in the region.

The development of the Sitka-based lab is being paid for by a $527,000 grant from the Administration for Native Americans, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The lab will allow the tribe and six other tribal organizations to assess vulnerability in their communities for health risks, the Daily Sitka Sentinel (https://is.gd/qJdot5) reported.

The lab won’t certify beaches for shellfish harvesting, said Jeff Feldpausch, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s resource protection director. But it can “raise a red flag” about risks and send out samples for further testing, he said.

“It’s an early warning system to let people know whether we have an algal bloom and toxins are present,” he said.

To monitor harmful algal blooms in the region, the tribe has formed a partnership with Craig Tribal Association, Klawock Cooperative Association, the Organized Village of Kasaan, Petersburg Indian Association, Yakutat Tlingit Tribe and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

The establishment of the monitoring program, the training and the lab equipment are being funded by $360,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Indian General Assistance Program, Feldpausch said.

Forming the partnership is a major accomplishment, said Chris Whitehead, natural resources specialist with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. The tribe plans to apply for more funding to add five more tribes from the areas, he said.

“Just to have the partnership is a big deal for the tribes that are involved,” Whitehead said. “It hasn’t been done in the past. For seven tribes to form a partnership is enormous, and the potential for 12 of the 17 Southeast tribes to be involved with more funding - and a common goal - is kind of unheard of.”

The tribe is planning to host a training workshop for partners in November.

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Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, https://www.sitkasentinel.com/


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