Oilsands Development —- Deformed Fish Living Downstream

Deformed fish spawned a united call Thursday for a long-term study into the health of fish living downstream of oilsands development in Alberta. Fishermen, scientists, First Nations chiefs, health professionals and residents signed the request sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “Fishers have noted that the incidence and frequency of unhealthy fish within their catch has increased substantially over time,” says their letter. Raymond Ladouceur has fished the waters of Lake Athabasca and the Athabasca River for 53 years. The deformed fish only began showing up in his nets about 20 years ago, he says. Some of them were displayed in trays of ice at the University of Alberta. Ladouceur led the tour, pointing at a whitefish bearing a pinkish wash over its entire body. “Usually these fish are not red like this,” he said. In another tray, a burbot was bent over at a peculiar angle, lacking part of its stomach. Other trays bore fish with stunted back ends, pushed-in heads or patches of brown flesh that Ladouceur described as “rotting.” “I think most of us would agree they’re not things you’d like to see on your plate when you go to a restaurant,” said aquatics ecologist David Schindler. The fish were collected by University of Alberta scientists and local fishermen from the lower Athabasca River, Lake Athabasca and the Peace-Athabasca Delta between 2008 and 2010. Schindler and health professionals such as Drs. John O’Connor and William Griffin, who work in Fort Chipewyan, said the deformed fish raise concerns for the residents of Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan, many of whom consume fish as an important part of their diet and traditional lifestyle. Schindler said science has already shown that contaminants in oilsands cause death and deformities in fish embryos. Recent work, which he took part in, shows oilsands development releases pollutants to the Athabasca watershed. No one could estimate the rate of deformities among fish Thursday, but they felt justified in asking for a long-term monitoring program to be carried out by the federal government. It should be overseen by an independent steering committee made up of community members and leaders, fishermen, federal scientists and academic researchers, they said. The Department of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development disagrees. “They’re basing those (requests) on anecdotal information from a limited range of locations,” said spokesman Dave Ealey. “We’re saying scientific protocols are important to be done, and we believe that those have been examined through the work of (the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program) and through what the federal government has already done up in that area, and there’s no indication of there being any unusual levels of (disease) incidence.” Schindler says that in his 45 years of aquatics ecology research, he has only caught one or two deformed fish in pristine waters. The only time he has seen deformity rates similar to what he is hearing and seeing in northeastern Alberta was in studies of fish in and at the mouth of the Niagara River and the Detroit River when PCBs and toxins were a major issue. The Alberta government has strongly denied suggestions of detrimentalimpacts from oilsands development, but Premier Ed Stelmach recently said he would like Schindler and government scientists to compare methods and statistics to figure out why their science is clashing. It’s a reasonable suggestion, Schindler said Thursday, praising the premier for making the decision. He added, however, that previous debates with government staff haven’t proved fruitful. Instead, he wants the premier to ask the Royal Society of Canada, a national body of distinguished scholars, artists and scientists, to appoint a panel to evaluate the two data sets and figure out which one is valid. The premier’s spokesman, Jerry Bellikka, said in an e-mail that they received the letter but have not made a decision. Schindler also met with Environment Canada Minister Jim Prentice on Wednesday. “We had quite a good dialogue about it,” Prentice said Thursday. Alberta Environment spokesman Mark Cooper said the province is doing a contaminant study on the Athabasca watershed and another scientific study on the safety of traditional aboriginal food. Samples of plants, wild game and fish will be analyzed to determine if they are safe to eat. Final results are expected in 2012, but interim results will be released during the study, when possible, he said. Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann said the answers are too slow in coming. “We’re 10 years late. If this was upstream of Calgary, we would know all this information right now.” ((23 OCT 2010))




No toxic pipeline across the Niobrara River — No deformed fish in the Niobrara River.




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