Toxin Testing in Fish

Chemical structure of microcystin algae toxin. Image from Wikipedia.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) has released a request for proposals to study accumulation of mercury and toxins from blue-green algae in fish. The successful respondent will collect and analyze tissue from targeted sport fishes of legal consumption size for at least two groups of algae toxins and mercury. The Basin Program has offered $56,700 to complete the work.

Consumption advisories are already in place for fish caught in Lake Champlain due to mercury levels. The proposed work will help inform those advisories and track any changes in mercury concentrations in the target species.

The assessment of toxins from cyanobacteria is new for Lake Champlain. Each season questions arise about whether it is safe to consume fish following blue-green algae blooms. It is not known if toxins accumulate in the food chain, and if they do where in the fish they might appear. Guidance to anglers varies across the basin and the country with advice ranging from discarding fish remnants or skin to not eating fish in areas experiencing blooms. The study will hopefully provide clarity for future advisories.

“Data generated from this project will help resource managers and health officials frame appropriate guidance around the health risks of handling and consuming fish exposed to certain cyanotoxins,” said Eric Howe Technical Coordinator for the LCBP. Additionally, results from this study will be used to inform lake managers about the distribution of these contaminants (cyanotoxins and mercury) in fish tissue throughout Lake Champlain, and to provide updated information for the Northeast Regional mercury TMDL Phase II reassessment. Proposals are due to LCBP by March 16.