The same technology that powers facial recognition and self-driving cars may soon help Maine’s shellfish industry protect people from the dangerous effects of harmful algal blooms. A recent paper reports how researchers can use deep-learning algorithms to forecast shellfish toxicity, just as meteorologists forecast the weather.

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences works with Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR) to test thousands of shellfish samples for toxins each year using an advanced chemical method. The measurements help DMR judge when an area is safe for shellfish harvests. Over the years, this method has also created a dataset that reveals when and where toxins have occurred around the state, allowing scientists to anticipate when they will show up in the future.

DMR monitors shellfish throughout the year to ensure that no harvesting occurs while toxin levels in the water are high. While this ensures that all seafood sold is safe to eat, the fishery closures can cause major disruptions to the state’s seafood industry.

Researchers predict that large-scale blooms of algae may become more common as the Gulf of Maine continues to warm, potentially favoring toxic algal species. The team hopes that live, real-time forecasts will be in place to aid monitoring efforts and shellfish harvests throughout the Gulf of Maine in a few years.