Are your salmon depressed?

Are your salmon depressed?

Here’s the solution… just put them in the nearest city wastewater stream.

There, they will get a good dose of prozac, cialis/viagara, and estrogen from birth control pills.

CBC reported in January:

Antidepressants in Montreal waste water

A significant amount of antidepressant medicine exists in Montreal’s waste water, affecting fish tissue and brain activity, a study by the University of Montreal’s chemistry department has found.

The study says the phenomenon likely occurs in many cities around the world because Montreal has a typical sewage-treatment system.

The controlled study involved brook trout exposed to varying amounts of effluent Montreal water over a three-month period.

“We have data that does show that antidepressant drugs do accumulate in fish tissues — there’s significantly more in the liver than in the muscle, but there’s also more in the brain tissues,” [Dr.] Sauvé [main researcher] told The Canadian Press.

“[The brain] is a bit more of a cause for concern because we have a molecule that’s known and used for brain alteration functions in humans, so if we do have an accumulation in fish brain, it raises a question of what the impact is on the fish.”

And so now at least Montreal has happy, erect, non-reproducing fish swimming around in the St. Lawrence…

_ _ _ _ _

Jest aside… this is no small potato issue. One thing that struck me… the study estimates that one in four folks in Quebec are on Prozac-like medication. Yowsers.

The CBC report turns quickly to the human fear-factor issue… “oh my god, what if I eat the fish?”.

Not a big issue.

But what if you’re a depressed salmon in the Fraser River — like a sockeye?

Well… flush it out of sight, flush it out of mind.

_ _ _ _ _

At last summer’s Fraser Sockeye Summit hosted by SFU, Ken Ashley an instructor at the BC Institute of Technology (BCIT) reported on this issue.

Ken Ashley_SFU salmon summit_March 2010

His report is also summarized in the proceedings from the Summit:

Emerging concerns about wastewater
There is an emerging concern about wastewater and the array of chemicals that are being produced by society and usually end up going down the drain. Endocrine disruptors are of particular concern, and there is a large range of these compounds; for example, the compound Bisphenol A which led to a debate over plastic water bottles and the banning by Health Canada for some baby bottles.

Another endocrine disruptor is Triclosan, a thyroid hormone mimicker that acts as an antibacterial agent. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenols), POPs (persistent organic pollutants) and fire retardants such as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are other compounds of concern.

Numerous pharmaceuticals, such as Viagra and Prozac that are also found in wastewater. The latest compounds of concern are nanoparticles, such as nanocarbon, nanotitanium and nanosilver. Nanosilver is now used by some washing machines to disinfect clothing (silver has been known since the Middle Ages to have antimicrobial activity). All of these compounds usually end up in the drain being discharged into either the marine or freshwater environment.

The question is: how effective are wastewater treatment plants at keeping these compounds out of marine and freshwater environments? The answer is that they are not…

_ _ _ _ _ _

Effects of effluent on salmon migration

Recent research has show that incidents of sex‐reversal in salmonids have been observed in the effluent plume. The presence of EDCs [endocrine disrupting compounds — the things that mess with our most ancient internal systems, like the immune system, etc.] may also interfere with the typical olfactory imprinting process during early life cycle development stages in salmon.

There is a period when the smolts go through the parr‐smolt transformation, where the thyroxin hormone levels become elevated in the blood. It is known that juvenile salmon detect the unique odour of their natal streams; this phenomenon is referred to as olfactory imprinting, and this is how salmon migrate to their natal stream once they return into the freshwater environment (in the open marine migration they are guided by magnetic compass and sun height). Evidence suggests that juvenile salmon ‘imprint’ odours of the streams on the way to the ocean during the parr‐smolt transformation period.

Elevated thyroxin levels stimulate neural development of the olfactory cells, and this facilitates olfactory imprinting. However, this process may be interrupted when the smolts move through effluent plumes containing Trislocan and other EDCs.

Ashley also goes on to point out the issues around PCBs and PCBEs:

PCB and PBDE trends in Strait of Georgia
Research has been conducted under the direction of scientists at the Institute of Ocean Science where sediment cores were obtained from the Strait of Georgia and examined for organochlorines, PCBs and PBDEs among other compounds. The presence of PBDEs is universal; for example, they are in your furniture cushions and in computer cases.

On a side note to the presentation:

The orca found dead on the Olympic Peninsula earlier this year carried a level of contaminants that was among the highest if not the highest ever measured in killer whales, laboratory tests show the 22 foot long female orca was so full of polychlorinated biphenyls that when scientists first attempted to test her fat, the result was too high for the machines to read it.

[the carcass of this whale basically had to be disposed of like toxic waste]

There are ongoing issues and concerns surrounding the health of Fraser Chinook which comprise a significant part of the SARA-listed (Species At Risk Act) resident orcas in the Salish Sea.

After his presentation Ashley answered a question with this info on what needed to be done in the City of Vancouver and Fraser Valley area:

It all comes down to dollars and the issue right now is that the Iona plant is outdated and needs to be rebuilt and it will cost about $1 billion. The Lions Gate plant is out of date, it is a fish killer, and to upgrade it will be about $0.5 billion. Annacis, Lulu and Northwest Langley plants all need significant midlife upgrades. If you add it all together, the cost is about $1.75 billion.

The issue is that Metro is currently following a funding model where they want to pay everything off in a 15‐year amortization period. This has gone to the finance committee twice and the liquid waste management panel has suggested that instead it be spread over 30 or 35 years. These are multigenerational facilities that will be here for a long time.

…in order to enable politicians to do their job this time at the local government level, you need to talk to your city councilor or mayor who is on the Metro Vancouver wastewater management committee and tell them to adopt a 35‐year amortization period and rebuild all of these starting at the same time and with the best available technology. If they get hung up on the 15‐year amortization period, they will drag the upgrade out for 20 or 30 years.

Certainly could leave one wondering where the almighty Department of Fisheries and Oceans is on these issues? As they are supposed to protect salmon, and orcas and marine resources and so on, and so on…

7 thoughts on “Are your salmon depressed?

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  3. LAL

    Responsible humanity….

    Would people let their children swim and drink this water?

    Do they realize that this part of the globe is CONNECTED TO THE REST OF IT?

    “The life cycle death spiral” no magic pill cure for that.

    If we ate healthy and responsible in the first place there would be no need for half of that crap to get tossed into the water and introduced to food chains.

  4. James

    This is just one aspect of water quality which must be addressed when considering salmon stocks in the Fraser.
    Endocrine disruptors and organochlorines are incredibly powerful disruptors in natural development of fish due to their sensitivity at certain life stages and the fact that they are immersed in, and breathe water which dilutes and spreads these compounds.
    It would be like having the air intake for an elementary school’s AC system being located inside the parking garage and wondering why the kids were getting sick.
    I am glad that some of the other factors involved in the well being of wild stocks are being brought to light and will have the chance to be placed beside others, like aquaculture, so people can gain some perspective.

  5. Brian

    Strange that countries like Vietnam get so much attention for their water quality conditions where their fish are farmed and caught, but places in our own backyard (i.e. the Lower Fraser River) are seen as so benign and insignificant by most of the general public (in my opinion). I agree that it is helpful that other factors are brought to light instead of so much effort expended on aquaculture.

    Where is DFO on these issues? Actually where are municipalities, the province government, the federal government (parliament) and more importantly – the general public? Upgrades to these facilities are not small expenditures, so I imagine there is not much appetite to raise taxes or the willingness from the public to fork out more in tax dollars. In my opinion, the public is for the most part complacent about all this. You do not see mass demonstrations for sewage upgrades at Vancouver City Hall or the BC legislature in Victoria. You do not see people canoeing down the Fraser River in protest against Iona. You do not see much of this mention in the media. You do not see these questions come to the forefront by the general public during town hall meetings with civic, provincial and federal politicians during election campaigns. How many times do you hear sewage and wastewater issues being brought up (that sort of sounds funny when put together…lol) at thone speeches and budgets? What do you think the priorities of the Federal Conservative Government is when they construct an artificial lake for a G8 economic conference or when both the provincial and federal government put out huge amounts of cash towards the Winter Olympics last year?

    Priorities for the public are healthcare and education it seems. The only people that speak up for upgrades to sewage facilities seem to be a vocal few who attend city council meetings and permit hearings. For the most part. people love their urban lifestyle the way it is. Keep taxes low and keep all the services they require is the key it seems. As long as the sewage goes out into the ocean through a long, underwater pipe they cannot see they do not really care. Go ask a bunch of people on the street of Vancouver or Hope about what their priorities are? Notice how many times “sewage” gets mentioned. Now, if you were to create a YouTube video of sewage being pumped out and show a bunch of fish belly up then that usually works to gather more support.

    So, where is DFO on these issues? Well, the men and women intrusted to protect habitat and enforce environmental laws are basically doing the best they can with what they have. Right now it seems like more of the focus is placed on aquaculture because the “squeeky bird is getting the worm”. Perhaps if people felt as strongly as you do this could help change priorities at higher levels of government so that the resources are in place to get these upgrades done. The squeeky bird gets the worm….and it certainly isn’t general public complaining about sewage upgrades. Tell someone they are going to have to wait for elective surgery or an MRI for 8 months and a riot is started and the media eats it up. Tell someone Iona only has primary sewage treatment and they might ask you where the heck is Iona or if Iona plays for the Canucks. There is the inconvienent truth.

  6. salmon guy Post author

    good comments Brian. I hear you on the folks (the community level folks) within DFO doing what they can with limited resources. That’s a common plight across the Province for DFO folks working hard at grassroots levels. And yes, this is an issue that is not brought enough. Up in my neck of the woods in the Fraser, there isn’t much fuss made about what pulp mills and otherwise are putting in the river. Nor is there much fuss about what folks are taking out of the River.

    The number of water licenses on the Nechako River alone is staggering — many of them 24/7 access, often without screens or otherwise to protect salmon fry or limitations during fry migration. It’s nutso.

    To be fair to the folks that are working on these issues — including the NGO world — the Georgia Strait Alliance which has active aquaculture campaigns has quite an active “sewage” campaign throughout the Salish Sea:

    Yet, you’re exactly right. Not much public appetite for sewage discussions — and yet big $$ for a 2-week amateur sporting event that probably could be entirely sponsored by Nike, Bell, banks, etc.

    thanks for the continued comments.

  7. salmon guy Post author

    Agreed James. This issue adding to the exponential impacts already affecting Fraser salmon — like the over 100 streams lost due to urbanization in the Greater Vancouver area alone. All key places for salmon fry to hang out and undergo the physiological changes required to enter the salt chuck.

    I tend to agree with the perspective that all the factors need to be lined up beside each other — it’s one heck of a list… and what’s the “tipping point” for wild salmon stocks and specifically Fraser stocks. And these impacts only continue to grow, along with the human population…

    thanks for leaving the comment.

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