Wednesday, September 4, 2013

When Good Seafood Goes Bad

Jacques White of Long Live the Kings reminded me about a March 18 article in Ocean Natural Resource Governance (“Gulf Seafood Deformities Alarm Scientists”) detailing the deformities found in fish, crabs and shrimp in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon mega-spill and use of dispersants in 2010.

His reminder brought to mind how much of the urgency in cleaning up and restoring Puget Sound was prompted in the early 1980s by Dr. Don Malins whose research (and promotion of that research) detailed the liver tumors he found in Elliott Bay and Duwamish River English sole.

(You’ll enjoy listening to Dr. Malins, the former Director of the Environmental Conservation Division of NOAA Fisheries, in a recent interview about his work discovering the tumors. Go to Puget Sound Voices: Don Malins interview.)

In the Gulf, Dr. Jim Cowan of the Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Science has found cancerous lesions on red snapper. Fishermen, scientists and seafood processors have found mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, and eyeless crabs and shrimp.

Dr. Cowan believes that the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the spilled oil are likely to blame for what he is finding. Dr. Riki Ott, a Prince William Sound toxicologist, points to the dispersants containing solvents as a cause of seafood deformities.

These are the immediate effects. The longer-term effects on the spill and the dispersants aren’t known but may prove more devastating. Dr. Andrew Whitehead at Louisiana State University has shown an adverse effect of spilled oil on the reproductive capabilities of a major marsh prey species, killifish.

Almost a decade after Dr. Malins and researchers established a link between the liver tumors in English sole and the toxic sediments they lived on, research by Dr. Usha Varanasi’s NOAA team pointed to how juvenile salmon passing through the water column above sediment contaminated by PAHs could suffer genetic damage, weakened immune systems and slower growth. (“Troubled Waters? -- Puget Sound's Pollution Seems To Be Damaging Young Chinook”  and “Fish Study Finds Dna Damage From Pollution”)

Fast forward 20 more years and we’re facing not only declining native salmon runs but also an onslaught of increased import of crude oil into the region’s refineries and an export of finished products. Meanwhile, the state can’t update its fish consumption standards to reflect the true amount of fish eaten out of the Sound because, well, it would require tightening up a whole bunch of discharge standards affecting businesses and industry. And, thankfully the incidence of liver tumors in bottom dwelling fish in Elliott Bay has decreased, but the latest research shows a significant decline of benthic organisms that live in the sediments of our urban bays.

The Gulf has big problems, for sure. Where’s the urgency in Puget Sound?

--Mike Sato

1 comment:

  1. Come ON Mike! We are picking up our dog poop, reducing fertilizer use, and checking our septic tanks as fast as we can! =;<)