Pfiesteria piscicida zoospores shown swarming around (short arrows), penetrating, and consuming (long arrows) a live eastern oyster larva. (J. Burkholder)

Economic Impacts

A preliminary and highly conservative nationwide estimate of the average annual costs of HABs is approximately $50 million.  Public health is the largest component, representing nearly $20 million annually, or about 42% of the nationwide average cost.  The effect on commercial fisheries averages $18 million annually, followed by $7 million for recreation and tourism effects, and $2 million for monitoring and management.  The actual dollar amount of these estimates is highly uncertain due to a lack of information about the overall effect of many HAB events and a difficulty in assigning a dollar cost to those events that we do understand.  While many expenses may be difficult to quantify, there is little doubt that the economic effects of specific HAB events can be serious at local and regional levels.

Separate from the national average, massive losses from isolated, individual events underscore the severity of the problem.  A recent PSP event in New England caused estimated losses of $12 to $20 million in Massachusetts alone, with additional losses in New Hampshire and Maine.  Continual PSP intoxication in Alaskan shellfish is one factor blamed for the lack of development of a commercial, wild shellfish industry, estimated to be worth $6 million annually.  Blooms of one of the brown tide organisms, Aureococcus anophagefferens, devastated the bay scallop industry in Long Island, estimated to be worth $2 million annually.  Outbreaks of Pfiesteria-like organisms in 1997 in Chesapeake Bay tributaries resulted in a collapse of seafood sales and boat charters, with losses to watermen, seafood dealers, and seafood restaurants approximating $43 million.

Last updated: February 25, 2016