Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association September 2011 Newsletter)

 

Contents:

 

ASMFC Meetings Overview

I attended the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Week and the Joint Meeting for ASMFC and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council. Motions and summaries from the Commission and the Council are below. Here are my thoughts on what took place.

Striped Bass

I have always been for striped bass conservation. However, I could not support sending out an addendum to reduce the striped bass fishery by 40% at this time. The ASMFC has in the past required New Jersey to completely change our regulations for an addendum that was unnecessary. To do those changes required considerable time for negotiation and legislation. Much staff time was required. In 1998, when the Division had more staff, this was still an imposition. Now this work would take much needed attention from other species. There are two stock assessments for striped bass that will be completed within the next 12 months. There is a turn-key assessment due in November that will review the data. There is a benchmark assessment that will be a peer review assessment due in 2012. We don’t need to jump the gun and make any changes before this data is available. There was talk about recruitment failure. When I checked the available data, I did not find any evidence to support a statement that striped bass was experiencing recruitment failure. The tables in the available documents suggested recruitment was above average in most jurisdictions. The Hudson in 2007 had its highest JI ever and Delaware in 2009 had its third highest. Most of the problems seem to be related to water quality and forage species. Reducing the catch will not solve either of those problems. My consistent requirement is that decisions are made based on the best science.

Menhaden

It is amazing to me that it has taken this long for us to actually set coastwide quotas on menhaden. We have seen the stock drop precipitously in the last 50 years. This has had a dramatic impact not only on the menhaden but on all the species that depend on menhaden as a forage species. For the Atlantic Coast, menhaden is one of the most important species in the ocean. We all know when menhaden are abundant; striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, tuna and others are caught around the menhaden schools. When the menhaden disappear from an area, all the species we target disappear with them. To suggest this stock is in good shape when we have no year class distribution is ridiculous. All other fishery management plans I deal with require good age class distribution. The reduction fishery makes up the majority of the catch. It harvests 1, 2 and 3 year old menhaden. Menhaden can live up to 11 years. We do not see older fish in the stock assessment. Menhaden was once abundant from Maine to Florida. Huge amounts were harvested for the reduction plants in every state along the coast. Now there is only one reduction plant along the east coast and the amount they are harvesting is small in relationship to what they harvested when the stocks were healthy. This addendum is a step in the right direction. There will be opposition from the commercial harvesters of menhaden. They have had free reign with no restriction on this stock for years and they will fight to maintain the status quo. I expect this will take until at least 2013 but this is a fight we cannot afford to lose. Otherwise, we will continue to see problems with the fish, marine mammals and birds that depend on them for forage. Just because there is an addendum on the table does not mean action will be taken. You need to keep the pressure on your Governor and your commissioners.

Joint Meeting

I have included this year’s quotas and motions below. Every year I come home from this exercise even more discouraged than I was the year before. We keep rebuilding stocks to all time high levels and yet we are not allowed to fish as if the stocks were recovered. We did get increases in the overall quotas for summer flounder and scup. Because of the omnibus amendment passed by the Mid-Atlantic Council, I am not sure what the actual increases will be. The jump in the scup quota will actually give us some opportunity to change the regulations in New Jersey.

Summer Flounder

Some people will be praising the quota increase but it will not be as great as it seems for the recreational fishery. Because of the omnibus amendment, when we set the quota for the recreational catch limits in December, there will be more factors to deduct from the approved quota. The recreational sector will have their quota reduced because of the regulatory discards forced on them by the crazy regulations. Summer flounder was never meant to be a catch and release fishery. This is a fishery that is for catch and eat, not catch and release like other fisheries. The ASMFC and the Mid-Atlantic Council have turned this into a fishery in which the regulatory discards equal the amount of fish kept by the recreational sector. This is unacceptable in a fishery that is not a primary catch and release fishery. We now release a large number of fish to get one keeper. It gets worse each year and nothing is done. We talk a lot, we make suggestions but nothing happens. Because of these onerous regulations we are now forced to kill at least one fish for every one we take home. In my opinion, the quota is way below what is appropriate and the abundance of fish sets up the recreational community for failure. If I was a teacher grading the NMFS on their management for summer flounder, they would get an “F”. We have rebuilt the stocks because of the sacrifice of both the recreational and commercial communities but nowhere do we see any benefit from this sacrifice. The sacrifice gets lost in all the wrong data. What we should be looking at is the actual number of summer flounder anglers take home to eat. At most, we now take home less than a quarter of the fish we used to because the regulations require us to keep larger fish. The anglers who catch a big fish take one home but the majority of the anglers are forced to catch and release. The shore-based anglers are taking almost no fish home because of the size restrictions. We have virtually eliminated the pier, the canal and the beach anglers. You should not manage fisheries by playing one group of anglers against another.

Black Sea Bass

I think the species that discourages me the most is black sea bass. In 1994 when we began working on the black sea bass plan, I thought both the commercial and recreational communities would eventually benefit the sacrifice required to rebuild this stock. Both groups have sacrificed since the plan was put in place in the mid 90’s. What benefits have they seen? None! This stock is listed on the webpage for NMFS and the Mid-Atlantic Council as recovered. That should mean we can harvest more fish than when they were rebuilding. How could I be so naïve? We can’t! This year we will actually fish with regulations and quotas that will allow us to harvest fewer fish than we were allowed during most of the rebuilding years when the stocks were being overfished and overfishing was taking place and they were not recovered. NMFS is now repeating their errors on summer flounder for black sea bass. Due to the size limits along the coast, we are seeing an increase in regulatory discards. These regulatory discards will require us to further reduce the quotas that were set as though black sea bass was overfished and overfishing was taking place. We are also seeing an increase in the number of fish kept in the northern range since the south is required to fish at higher size limits. This species has one of the same characteristics as summer flounder. The larger fish seem to migrate out and north. This is one of the reasons that we are seeing the northern states catch increase and this is pushing us over quota in recent years.

We will have to wait until the December meeting to learn what the quotas will actually be. Because of the cutbacks for stock assessment work and real biological studies, I have no faith that we will see favorable results from the current system. The more I look at the consequences of the Magnusson/Stevens Act without appropriate funding and appropriate science, the more discouraged I become. Unless we start doing more basic science research, we will never be able to appropriately manage any of these species.

Bluefish

According to the management plan, bluefish should be divided into 80% recreational and 20% commercial. This has not been true since the plan was put in place. When unused recreational quota is transferred to the commercial side, the split becomes about 60/40. Look at the motions below to understand the numbers. We never transfer quota to the recreational side. There would be lawsuits filed by both states and commercial fishermen. But the recreational community allows fisheries managers to reallocate the resource for bluefish to the commercial sector with no outcry. I guess we’re asleep at the wheel. We know the commercial sector wouldn’t be. Just look at what happens when we suggest modifying the summer flounder quota.

Research Set Aside

At the last few meetings, New Jersey has voted against using research set-asides. I was one of the original people who pushed to have recreational and commercial quota set-asides for research by universities, commercial and recreational anglers. We felt that we could design some research projects that would help us manage species that NMFS, the councils, the states and the Commission were ignoring. In the beginning, this was a successful program. We set aside quota that was converted to money to pay for scientific projects that involved commercial and recreational anglers and university personnel. When funding was cut at the state, federal and commission level, the NMFS Northeast Center (which handles the money) began diverting this money away from projects we were designing to fund NMFS, state or commission projects. This is a corruption of the original intent. These NMFS-funded programs are important but they should be line items in NMFS budget. NOAA has allowed funding for projects that have no impact on fisheries. Even when the funds are being spent on research projects, they are not spent on the species generating the funding. New Jersey, myself and others have been asking for a return to the original intent of this project. To date, we have been stonewalled. Black sea bass is one example. When the stock quota is so small and the transfer of fish into the research set-aside can have a great economic impact on the industries that depend on that quota, there must be an economic evaluation before any set-aside is agreed to. The question I asked on black sea bass was, “What does the 33 thousand fish that go to the research set-aside mean to the anglers and the industry that depends on those recreational anglers? Will this allow us to increase the season or reduce the size limit?” Of course, no one had an answer and the question was largely ignored. We will never know the positive impact that 33 thousand pounds of fish might have on the quotas. It might have meant millions of dollars into the recreational community and weeks more fishing. For these reasons we can no longer be cavalier in the transfer into RSAs and we need a total economic evaluation of what this transfer means. This is why New Jersey is voting no on research set-asides until these questions are answered and the program returns to the original intent.

 

ASMFC Summer 2011
Meeting Summaries

Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board (August 1, 2011)
Meeting Summary

The Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board reviewed Draft Addendum III, which contained management options to reduce fishing mortality up to 40% and provide increased protection for the stock when it is concentrated and vulnerable. The Draft Addendum was initiated due to increased concern over declining catch and abundance, as well as low recruitment. Additionally, there is increasing uncertainty and concern over the prevalence of mycobacteriosis in Chesapeake Bay striped bass. The Board postponed releasing the Draft Addendum for Public Comment, pending the results of the Stock Assessment Update in November.

For more information, please contact Kate Taylor, Fishery management Plan Coordinator, at ktaylor@asmfc.org or 703.842.0740.

Tautog Management Board (August 2, 2011)
Meeting Summary

The Tautog Management Board met to review 2010 state compliance and consider state proposals to implement Addendum VI. The Plan Review Team presented findings that all states met or exceeded all Fishery Management Plan (FMP) measures in 2010. Delaware and North Carolina met the requirements for de minimis status in the 2011. Following the presentation, the Board accepted the 2010 Tautog FMP Review and de minimis status for Delaware and North Carolina in 2011. De minimis status allows a state to apply their recreational regulations to their commercial fishery (bag/size limits). States are still required to implement recreational or monitoring measures in the FMP.

The next order of business was a Technical Committee (TC) review of state proposals to implement the Addendum VI Ftarget = 0.15. Based on the coastwide assessment (Fcoastwide = 0.38), states must implement regulations to achieve a 53% reduction in harvest to achieve the Ftarget= 0.15. Addendum VI allows states that can demonstrate a regional F that is lower than the coastwide assessment “at the same level of precision as the coastwide assessment” to only reduce harvest based on their regional F rate. The TC 6 provided a guidance document to help states calculate reductions on June 19, states submitted proposals for TC review around July 15, and the TC held its meeting to review state proposals on July 25, 2011. Massachusetts and Rhode Island submitted a regional VPA assessment (MA/RI VPA) using identical methodology as the coastwide assessment and demonstrating a regional F below the target. The TC endorsed the MA/RI VPA as at the same level of precision as the coastwide assessment based on a mean square residual (MSR) value of 0.69 compared to MSR = 0.61 for the coastwide assessment. The TC also noted that Rhode Island voluntarily lowered its private recreational bag and vessel limit in 2010, and combined MA/RI harvest was reduced by 25% in 2008 even though these states were only required to reduce harvest by 12%. The Board reviewed and unanimously approved the MA/RI VPA proposal.

Due to a lack of fishery-independent data, several states are unable to run a regional VPA and directly compare precision with a metric in the coastwide VPA. New York, Maryland, and Virginia submitted catch curve analyses demonstrating lower regional F’s than the coastwide assessment for TC review. The TC could not determine the precision of the New York or Maryland catch curve analyses and suggested some modifications. The TC did not suggest any modifications to the Virginia catch curve proposal and recommended that the Board consider the analysis. After considering the TC’s review, the Board agreed to postpone taking action on all catch curve proposals until the ASMFC Annual Meeting, allowing New York and Maryland to modify their proposals as requested by the TC.

The TC found that regulations in state plans to achieve a 53% reduction are risk neutral for Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The Board unanimously approved these states proposals to achieve the 53% reduction based on the TC recommendations. Following the approval of these plans, the Board agreed that states will submit all new and revised proposals by September 15, 2011 to allow for TC review prior to the November ASMFC meeting week. All states will be required to implement regulations to implement Addendum VI by January 1, 2012.

For more information, please contact Christopher Vonderweidt at cvonderweidt@asmfc.org or 703.842.0740.

 

Press Release: ASMFC Atlantic Menhaden Board
Approves Draft Addendum V for Public Comment

August 2, 2011

Alexandria, VA – The Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Management Board has approved Draft Addendum V to Amendment 1 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden for public comment. The Draft Addendum proposes establishing a new interim fishing mortality threshold and target (based on maximum spawning potential or MSP) with the goal of increasing abundance, spawning stock biomass, and menhaden availability as a forage species.

The Draft Addendum will also initiate the scoping process (comparable to that of a Public Information Document) on the suite of management tools that could be used to implement the new fishing mortality threshold and target levels. As in a PID, it will contain preliminary discussions of biological, environmental, social, and economic information, fishery issues, and potential management options for action through an addendum.

The MSP approach, as recommended by the 2009 peer review panel, identifies the fishing mortality rate necessary to maintain a given level of stock fecundity (number of mature ova) relative to the potential maximum stock fecundity under unfished conditions. The Draft Addendum presents two options for the new interim fishing mortality threshold (status quo based on an MSP of 8% and an MSP of 15%) and four options for the interim fishing mortality target (status quo and F based on MSPs of 20, 30 and 40%). For illustration purposes, a 15% MSP would equate to a fishing mortality rate threshold required to maintain approximately 15% of virgin stock fecundity. The current MSP level is 8%.

Based on the revised 2009 Atlantic menhaden stock assessment, menhaden was not overfished but had experienced overfishing in 2008. Given the current overfishing definition, which sets the fishing mortality rate (F) target at 0.96 and the F threshold at 2.2, this is the first time overfishing has occurred since 1998. Over the time series, overfishing had occurred in 32 of the last 54 years. F in 2008 (the latest year in the assessment) is estimated at 2.28.

States will be conducting hearings on the Draft Addendum; the details of those hearings will be released when they become available. Staff will be finalizing the Draft Addendum over the next couple of weeks. A subsequent announcement will be made once it is available for public comment. The Board will meet in November at the Commission’s Annual Meeting to review public comment and consider final action on the Addendum. Having gathered scoping information on management tools to implement Addendum V, the Board will also consider moving forward on a subsequent addendum to establish associated management measures. The Board’s intent is to finalize these management measures for implementation in 2013.

Motions
Main Motion:
Move to adopt Draft Addendum V for public comment with one change: remove Options 3 through 5 from section 2.3.1.
Motion made by Mr. Grout and seconded by Mr. McElroy. Motion substituted.
Motion to Substitute:
Move to substitute to adopt Draft Addendum V for public comment.
Motion made by Mr. Fote and seconded by Mr. Augustine. Motion passes (In Favor – NH, MA, CT, NY, NJ, DE, MD, NC, SC, GA, FL, NMFS, USFWS: Opposed – ME, RI, VA, Abstention – PRFC).
Main Motion as Substituted:
Move to adopt Draft Addendum V for public comment.
Motion made by Mr. Fote and seconded by Mr. Augustine. Motion carries.

 

Joint Meeting of MAFMC & ASMFC
August 17, 2011

Summer Flounder Management Measures for 2012

Move that the sum of the commercial and recreational ACLs be set equal the ABC of 35.55 mil lb in 2012 (commercial ACL=19.59 mil lb + recreational ACL = 15.96 mil lb). The recreational-ACT be set as 15.96 mil lb and the commercial-ACT be set as 19.59 mil lb in 2012. For 2012 the commercial landings level will be 18.95 mil lb and a recreational landings level will be 12.63 mil lb.

Move that up to 3% TAL be allocated for an RSA in 2012.

Scup Management Measures for 2012

Move that the sum of the commercial and recreational ACLs be set equal the ABC of 53.35 mil lb in 2012 (commercial ACL=41.61 mil lb + recreational ACL = 11.74 mil lb). The recreational-ACT be set as 11.74 mil lb and the commercial-ACT be set as 41.61 mil lb in 2012. For 2012 the commercial landings level will be 34.43 mil lb and a recreational landings level of 10.85 mil lb. The RSA be set up to 3% for 2012.

Bluefish

Move to adopt an ACL of 32.044 million pounds, equivalent to ABC, a recreational ACT of 27.336 million pounds and a commercial ACT of 4.708 million pounds corresponding to a recreational TAL of 22.986 million pounds and a commercial TAL of 4.708 million pounds and to allow a transfer of up to 5.792 million pounds from the recreational to the commercial TAL resulting in a recreational harvest limit of 17.194 million pounds and a commercial quota of 10.500 million pounds.

Move to allow for a research set aside of up to 3% (830,834 lbs) of the combined recreational/commercial TALs.

Move that the Board approve draft addendum I for public hearing.

Black Sea Bass

Move that the sum of the commercial and recreational ACLs be set equal the ABC of 4.50 mil lb in 2012 (commercial ACL = 1.98 mil lb + recreational ACL = 2.52 mil lb). The recreational-ACT be set as 1.86 mil lb and the commercial-ACT be set as 1.98 mil lb in 2012. For 2012 the commercial landings level of 1.76 mil lb and a recreational landings level of 1.36 mil lb. Set RSA up to 3%.

 

ASMFC Press Release
For Immediate Release, August 19, 2011
Contact Tina Berger, 703.842.0740

ASMFC Bluefish Board Approves Draft Addendum I for Public Comment
Addendum Proposes Establishment of Coastwide Sampling Program to Improve Data used in Stock Assessment

Wilmington, DE – The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Bluefish Management Board has approved Draft Addendum I to Amendment 1 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Bluefish for public comment and review. The Draft Addendum proposes a coastwide sampling program to improve the quantity and quality of information used in future bluefish stock assessments.

The last peer-reviewed stock assessment, conducted in 2005, supported the finding that the bluefish stock was rebuilt and not experiencing overfishing. However, the peer review panel expressed concern regarding the level of uncertainty in the assessment, particularly with regards to bluefish ageing data. It noted discrepancies in ageing protocols (e.g. the use of scales versus otoliths), gaps in the age-length keys from a lack of samples, and samples being geographically limited to Virginia and North Carolina. Age information is an important component of stock assessments because it is the basis for determining growth rates, the life-span of a species, and size-at-age to evaluate stock structure. The panel recommended that ageing practices be standardized and sampling expanded to overcome these deficiencies in the assessment.

In May 2011, the Commission's Bluefish Technical Committee conducted a workshop to review current bluefish ageing data, establish consistent ageing techniques, and explore opportunities to make aging efforts more cost-effective. A primary workshop recommendation was the establishment of a coastwide sampling program for bluefish. This recommendation provides the basis for Draft Addendum I.

States will be conducting hearings on the Draft Addendum; the details of those hearings will be released when they become available. The Board will meet in November at the Commission’s Annual Meeting to review public comment and consider final action on the Addendum. If approved, the biological monitoring program would be implemented for the 2012 fishing year. Copies of the Draft Addendum can be obtained via the Commission’s website (www.asmfc.org) under Breaking News or by contacting the Commission at 703.842.0740. Public comment will be accepted until 5:00 PM (EST) on September 30, 2011 and should be forwarded to Michael Waine, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St., Suite 200 A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at mwaine@asmfc.org (Subject line: Bluefish Addendum I).

 

JCAA Letter on Marine Debris Bill

 

July 26, 2011

Subject: Letter on Marine Debris Bill

Chairman Lobiondo
Congressman Larsen
Subcommittee on Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation
2165 Rayburn House Office Building
2163 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman LoBiondo and Ranking Member Larsen:

On behalf of the 75 fishing clubs represented by Jersey Coast Anglers Association and our associate members, we would like thank you and the other members of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation for including H.R. 1171, The Marine Debris Act Reauthorization Amendments in today’s hearing. The pervasive threat of ocean trash, or marine debris, is a significant challenge for our time that affects us all. We need solutions so that future generations have clean waterways and a healthy ocean to enjoy, and one of these solutions is HR 1171. This legislation will help to address and minimize the adverse impacts of ocean trash and we strongly support this bill.

Marine debris, or ocean trash, includes everyday items from bottles, plastic bags, and lighters to lost fishing gear, tires and even shipping containers lost at sea. All of these items and many more have significant impacts on wildlife, ecosystems and economies. For instance, derelict fishing gear can have detrimental impacts of the value of recreational and commercial fisheries. For example, it is estimated that over $250 million in marketable lobster is lost each year in derelict fishing gear. Additionally studies in the Puget Sound area indicate that a single derelict gill net is estimated to catch and kill 4,368 crabs over its lifetime. Furthermore, derelict gear poses as a navigational hazard and causes up to $792 million in damages to vessels every year. In a time where our fishermen are facing serious challenges due to requirements under the Magnuson Stevens Act, something must be done to prevent these unnecessary economic losses.

In the recreational sector, we have been collecting unwanted fishing line. For example, at New Jersey’s Island Beach State Park, every station where 4 wheel drive recreational fishing vehicles fill their tires with air, there is a container for old fishing line. This keeps the line from entangling birds and getting caught in boat’s propulsion systems.

In an effort to address the economic impacts of derelict fishing gear, the NOAA Marine Debris Program has partnered with the private sector in a partnership called “Fishing for Energy.” This partnership provides recycling bins in fishing ports where fishermen can dispose of old gear at no cost. To date, this partnership has collected over 1,000,000 pounds of gear from 24 ports across the continental U.S. and was honored with the Coastal America Partnership Award for its action-oriented, results-driven collaboration process dedicated to restoring and preserving coastal ecosystems. In New Jersey, the Fishing for Energy Partnership has installed a recycling bin at the port in Cape May, and this site has collected over 48 tons of gear. Not only does this partnership provide fishermen another option besides costly landfill disposal, it incentivizes the fishermen to collect any derelict gear they come across while on the water. Ultimately, this partnership benefits the fishermen, our economy, and our local marine environment. If this Act fails to get reauthorized, this beneficial initiative will be at risk.

The problem of marine debris is growing everyday. This legislation will ensure that NOAA can continue its crucial work to reduce the prevalence and impacts of derelict fishing gear. HR 1171 reaffirms NOAA’s commitment to address marine debris and will streamline the program to avoid duplicating with the efforts of other agencies. Thank you again for hearing this bill, and we urge the committee to continue to advance this important piece of legislation.


Sincerely,
Thomas Fote
Legislative Chairman

 

 

Drug Waste Harms Fish
Discharges from Pharmaceutical Factories Contaminate Rivers on Three Continents

by Natasha Gilbert,
nature.com, 8/15/2011

Consumers who flush unwanted contraceptives down the drain have long been blamed for giving fish more than their fair share of sex organs. Drugs excreted by patients can also taint rivers, even after passing through wastewater-processing facilities.

Gudgeon
Gudgeon downstream of a wastewater-processing plant had swollen abdomens and other abnormalities.

But evidence is accumulating that the effluent coming from pharmaceutical factories could also be carrying drugs into rivers. Many ecotoxicologists had assumed that water-quality standards, along with companies' desire to avoid wasting valuable pharmaceuticals, would minimize the extent of bioactive compounds released by factories into wastewater, and ultimately into rivers.

A string of studies suggest otherwise. In 2009, for example, researchers reported very high levels of pharmaceutical ingredients in treated effluent coming from a plant that processes wastewater from factories near Hyderabad, India. The following year, a similar discovery was made at two wastewater-treatment plants in New York, both of which received discharges from drug-production plants.

Now, researchers have provided the first evidence of similar problems in Europe, and have linked it to sex disruption in wild fish populations found in the Dore River in France. "People thought this could not happen in a country that has high environmental standards and good manufacturing practices," says Patrick Phillips, head of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program at the US Geological Survey in Troy, New York, and lead author of the US study. "The evidence from the United States and now from France shows that this is not the case."

The discovery has prompted calls for more effective oversight of the industry. The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and France do not have regulations limiting the concentrations of pharmaceuticals released into the aquatic environment in either municipal wastewater or in effluent from manufacturing facilities. "People think drug release is regulated, but its not," says Joakim Larsson, a pharmacologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and an author of one of the Indian studies.

Fish Find

The French study investigated the health of wild gudgeon (Gobio gobio) populations in a river near a facility close to Vertolaye, owned by pharmaceutical multinational Sanofi, which produces steroid compounds. It was commissioned by the French environment ministry after anglers spotted abnormal fish in the area.

Downstream from the factory, the researchers found that on average 60%, and in one case 80%, of the fish had both male and female sexual characteristics. Upstream of the effluent discharge, such intersex fish made up just 5% of the populations (see 'Fishy find').

Male fish living downstream from the factory also had significantly higher blood levels of vitellogenin, a protein normally found in eggs, than those living upstream.

"This is a real problem," says Wilfried Sanchez, an ecotoxicologist at the French National Institute for Industrial Environment and Risks, and lead author of the study. Sexual abnormalities in gudgeon may not only prevent the fish from breeding, but also signal problems in other species, and a reduction in the fish population could have broader consequences for the river ecosystem.

Main culprits

In results they have yet to publish, Sanchez and his colleagues identified the main pharma¬ceutical pollutants in the river as being dexamethasone (an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant), spironolactone (a diuretic that also blocks the effects of male sex hormones) and canrenone, also a diuretic. All were measured at concentrations of around 10 micrograms per litre, which is "very high" for biologically active substances, says Sanchez. It is unclear how these compounds ended up in the river.

Ian Weatherhead, Sanofi's communications director, points out that because "no effect has been observed in other fish species", it is difficult to be sure how widespread the problem is. He says that the company is cooperating with regulatory agencies, researchers and ecological associations to help identify the cause of the "disturbances", which are "probably multi-factorial".

Some scientists and policy-makers say that broader regulations are needed. The European Commission is now considering whether to set limits on the handful of drugs commonly found in waterways, including the anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen and the contraceptive compound ethinylestradiol. It expects to publish its decision in the autumn as part of proposed reforms to the Water Framework Directive, which governs water pollution. The reform may, for example, demand more extensive cleaning processes in wastewater-treatment plants.

Complicating the regulators' efforts, scientists have not determined safe limits for many pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment, or how widespread the problem is, says Susan Jobling, an aquatic ecotoxicologist at Brunel University in London. "We don't know the extent to which it is happening," agrees Larsson. "Very few manufacturing sites have been measured."

 



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