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Red Tides, Red Tape Cloud Life at Sea


Shellfish filter and absorb the toxic algae, which if eaten by humans, can be deadly. See photo gallery

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Mario Luis, Russie Luengo and millions of fishermen in Chile and other coastal countries are facing cloudy futures. Their nemesis is "red tides" - scary code words for harmful algae the sea tides bring that can poison shellfish and other seafood, taking it off the market until deemed to be safe.

Sometimes the scares of contaminated seafood prove to be real, many times they do not. How food safety authorities tell the difference is becoming a big issue internationally, with "red tape" high on the list of concerns in fishing communities the world over. A long and complicated bureaucratic road has held up a new test to certify that shellfish exposed to red tides are safe to sell and eat.

The test relies on a nuclear-based scientific technique, called RBA for short, that more quickly and precisely measures levels of "red tide" chemicals shellfish might contain. Fishing and health authorities in Chile, the Philippines and elsewhere are seeing RBA as a key tool, and the IAEA is working with partner countries and organizations to help them learn and apply it. Their goal? To get RBA approved as the international "gold standard" for testing and certifying the safety of shellfish and other seafood from red tide waters.

As things stand now, RBA´s approval is lugging along, but still stuck in sand, with decisions looming some years down the road. Meantime, fishing communities worry about the scares and reality of the next red tide outbreak, and the inevitable losses it brings.

Today the paperwork fight to get RBA approved faster is intensifying. Fishing is big business for coastal countries, and how the story of red tide and red tape turns out is of growing social and economic importance, especially in the developing world where fishermen and women like Mario and Russie make their living from the seas.

Stories featured here describe how the challenges of red tide and red tape are being met - and how the IAEA is working with partners through its Technical Cooperation programme to help the world's fishing communities benefit from the tools of nuclear science and technology to build a better future.

» Chile Casts Off Toxic Tides, in a series of reports, the IAEA´s Kirstie Hansen explores the effects of red tide and the road of red tape, highlighting how Chile´s fishing communities have joined the battle.

» Getting to the Bottom of Algal Blooms: Nuclear Methods Target Toxins, in a report from the Philippines, IAEA´s David Kinley takes a close-up look at action being taken in the village of Bolinao.