Fish Monitoring Program

What We're Doing:

Supported by funding from EPA, NOAA and BOEMRE (formerly MMS), we're analyzing salmon (all five species), halibut, pacific cod, sablefish, black rockfish, sheefish, lingcod, pollock as well as other marine and fresh water species for trace metals (methyl mercury, total mercury, selenium, copper, lead, cadmium). A subset will be analyzed for dioxins and furans, organochlorine pesticides, PCB congeners and brominated fire retardants. Samples will be collected primarily in coastal marine waters throughout the state with some fresh water species from some coastal water sheds and lakes in the Koyukuk, Kuskokwim, Yukon, and Susitna River drainages.

Why We're Doing It:

To determine if coastal ecosystems and Alaska fishes are being negatively impacted by environmental pollutants. Persistent Organic Pollutants are appearing everywhere, including pristine Arctic climates. These compounds are being deposited in the biologically diverse coastal ecosystems which support marine food chains. Small amounts of these pollutants deposited here can biomagnify and bioaccumulate so that predators at the top of the food chain can be exposed to large concentrations of these chemicals. The assumption is that the majority of these pollutants are coming from somewhere other than Alaska. So far, in the fish that have been analyzed, we have not found levels of concern. The Department of Environmental Conservation wants to add to those studies to evaluate other contaminants (such as personal care products, pharmaceuticals and perfluorinated compounds) with a broader sample size that includes more species and more locations.

These pollutants can impact the health of the entire ecosystem and the growth and development of the animals living in the coastal environment. Alaskan seafood provides nutrition for the human residents of the state as well as the rest of the US. Over 50% of the seafood processed in the U.S. comes from Alaskan waters. Alaskans - especially those living in rural areas - eat much more wild food than people in other parts of the United States, and for Native Alaskans harvesting local food is an integral part of their culture.

What It Will Tell Us:

The data will identify areas or sites that may need remediation or some other action to mitigate the exposure of the coastal ecosystem to these environmental pollutants. Also, by comparing results to national health standards set by EPA and FDA, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Public Health, Epidemiology Section will be able to use our data to determine if any consumption advice should be given.

Who Is Working With Us:

Sample collectors include the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, NOAA (Sablefish Survey), International Pacific Halibut Commission as well as recreational, commercial and Native Fishermen.

Peer reviewers of our project include researchers at NOAA, EPA, and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

This is a collaborative program and so we not only share our data but will also share our samples with university researchers, other state and federal agencies (EPA, NOAA, Department of Interior, ADF&G, DHSS) to further work in evaluating toxicologic impacts on the coastal ecosystem and salmon health issues.

What's Next:

Analysis is expensive. Testing for all contaminants costs over $3,000 per sample. The results of the project to date allow us to define: 1) where on-going routine sampling is needed for sentinel monitoring, 2) areas or species that may need further evaluation, 3) new species or locations that need to be assessed, and 4) actions needed to be taken to mitigate any negative impacts of environmental pollutants on Alaska’s environmental resources.


Bob Gerlach, VMD
State Veterinarian
(907) 375-8200 (Anchorage)