Our Fish Are Effed Up – Very Effed Up
Do you have high blood pressure? How about heart disease? Bipolar Disorder? No? Well, do you mind being treated for those maladies anyway? In fact, do you mind being treated for kidney disease, cancer and a couple-few other odd ills too? What? You’d rather not? Too bad. And too late. It’s already happening, every time you eat fish.
Then again, why should humans be treated any differently than fish? Forget that whole dominion over all the animals thing, because that Biblical dictum surely isn’t predicated upon reckless poisoning. It probably doesn’t include being cruel either.
Just ask any vegan, which is what everyone’s gonna have to be if we don’t find some way to clean our waterways. Fish were supposed to be the last clean edible animal. Or so we believed anyway.
What’s Up with Fish & Drugs?
Since The St Pete Catalyst’s Mark Parker got us on to this drugged fish story, we’ll let him kick off the proceedings:
“Local anglers and researchers from Florida International University (FIU) joined throngs of recreational fishers in search of the ever-popular red drum – commonly known as redfish – [a copper-colored sportfish that inhabits waters from St. Augustine to Pensacola]. The goal was to test blood samples for 94 pharmaceutical contaminants.”
“All 15 fish caught around Tampa Bay tested positive.”
WUSF reporter Jenny Staletovich takes it from there:
“The most commonly found drugs were heart medicine, opioids and anti-psychotic drugs, with the heart meds and opioids found in half the fish sampled. The scientists said the fish likely inhaled the drugs through water or by eating contaminated prey.”
“Of the 12 most commonly detected drugs,” continues Staletovich, “seven have been found to harm fish. The other five have not been investigated.”
It’s doubtful those other five won’t also be harmful to our fish friends.
Or to ourselves. Fish is a staple of the Florida diet. A major staple. Consequently, drugged fish means a lot of Floridians will be subjected to drugs they neither need nor want. No, a few fish filets probably won’t kill you. But a few years of consummation can certainly add up to no good. Do you really want random pharmaceuticals dripping into your body?
Drugged fish are also impacting Florida’s sport fishing industry. Pro or con, it’s big business. Real big business. In fact, the industry brings Florida around $14 billion a year and “directly supports more than 120,000 jobs.” That’s a whole lotta loot to loose. A whole lotta jobs to lose too.
Bye Bye Bonefish
The redfish study was commissioned by the Miami-based Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (BTT). FIU’s good Dr. Jennifer Rehage led the initiative. This wasn’t the doc’s first rodeo either. Last year Dr. Rehage led a BTT/FIU bonefish drug-testing expedition throughout Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys. There the team found 58 various drugs, with an average of seven in each unsuspecting fish. One poor guy contained 17 different pharmaceuticals.
The Guardian’s Salomé Gómez-Upegui told the story:
“Nicknamed “grey ghosts” for their lustrous silver scales, remarkable stealth and speed, bonefish can swim at up to 40mph. This species, protected by catch-and-release laws in the US, is revered by anglers around the world, many of whom visit Florida to seek the elusive fish.”
“But evidence points to a steep drop in bonefish numbers in south Florida. In fact, researchers estimate populations have fallen more than 50% over four decades.”
“‘I’ve fished [bonefish] all my life and I can’t find them’, said one fisherman. ‘It’s freaking me out’.”
Just because we no longer eat bonefish though doesn’t mean they aren’t important – to our economy, or our ecology.
Fish on Meth
Bonefish and redfish aren’t the only breeds that are having drug problems either. Back in ’21 the BBC’s Matt Parker and Alex Ford highlighted a 2021 Czech Republic study that found brown trout were developing a fondness for methamphetamine. The study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, “examined whether concentrations of methamphetamine – and one of its byproducts, amphetamine – could be detected in the brains of brown trout. [It] also looked at whether these concentrations were enough to cause the animals to become addicted.”
Since other studies had found illicit drug concentrations in various waterways, researchers had a pretty good idea they’d detect something unusual. Once illicit drugs had been discovered, however, they took things one step further:
“The trout were exposed to the drug in large tanks over eight weeks and then cut off ‘cold turkey’. Over the 10-day withdrawal period, the researchers tested the fish’s preference for fresh water or water containing methamphetamine. [They also] compared this with the responses of fish that had never been exposed to the drug.”
Yep, you guessed it:
“The methamphetamine-exposed fish preferred the water containing the drug, while no such preference was shown for the untreated fish. The researchers also found that during their withdrawal period, the methamphetamine-exposed trout moved less. The researchers interpreted this as a sign of anxiety or stress – [which, of course, are] typical signs of drug withdrawal in humans.”
Why Should We Care?
Why should we care if trout are becoming addicted to meth? Good question. Which is probably why the BBC tagteam asked it. It’s probably why they answered the question too.
“If the trout are ‘enjoying’ the drugs,” wrote Parker and Ford, “they may be inclined to hang around pipes where effluent is discharged.” Effluent-fed fish aren’t good for anyone, or any thing, least of all our scaly friends.
Worse, “fish can behave similarly to what is seen in humans suffering from addiction.” That is, they can lose “interest in other activities – [including] eating or reproducing.” Heck, “the fish might start to change their natural behavior [altogether],” and that would “ultimately [affect] their survival.”
So What To Do?
Healing Properties scoured the ether for solutions to our water problems – here’s what we learned:
To reduce your own risk, the Washington State Department of Health recommends:
- Eat a variety of fish that are low in contaminants.
- Check for local fish consumption advisories by waterbody.
- Follow the statewide mercury advisories for which fish to limit or avoid and advice on canned tuna.
- Eat smaller fish, [since] they have fewer contaminants.
- Remove the fish skin and visible fat before cooking. Grill, broil, or bake the fish. Let the fat drip off during cooking. Don’t use the fat for gravy or sauces. Eat the filet and no other parts.
You may also wanna check EPA advisories. The EPA works with state, tribal and federal partners to provide information about what species of fish are safe to eat, which ultimately works to reduce contaminants in the environment and protect aquatic habitats.
As for the fish…
As for protecting the fish themselves, well, that’s a whole ‘nother story. The National Poison Control Center does say one easy way we can prevent drugs from entering our waterways is to “mix unused drugs with old coffee grounds or kitty litter, or something else that no one would be tempted to swallow, place this material in a container or zip-top plastic bag, and then discard the container with household trash.”
That might work for old prescriptions, but it surely doesn’t apply to illicit drugs. The only way an addict or a dealer might dispose of their stash would be if the cops were banging on the door. And if that were the case, it’s highly unlikely that either would have time to consider the fish.
Nevertheless if even a fraction of the world’s drug users would take the time to properly dispose of their old prescription meds, we might just save a fish or three. We also might spare ourselves some unnecessary medicating. Removing drugs from the waste stream, however, is going to be a bit more complicated.