Toxic Pollution & Fisheries


“It seems that while working on making sure the fish, whales, or other marine animals come back, we need to make sure we are not dumping chemicals into their environment that could affect their reproductive systems and compromise their life cycles.” - John Pappalardo, fisherman and member of the New England Fishery Management Council  

Environmental pollutants comprise one of the major hurdles the marine food web is facing today.

Contaminants that accumulate in wildlife, including fish, cause health problems for them and for humans who eat them. Reproductive and developmental problems, behavioral problems, diseases, and cancers have all been linked to chemical pollutants. Marine mammals, birds and fish may be even more sensitive than humans to low concentrations of these pollutants.

Persistent and bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) may have entered the marine environment long ago, and others are still being added, primarily from human activities on land (often called land based sources of marine pollution). They include pesticides, cleaning substances, industrial lubricants, and other manufactured chemicals as well as byproducts of combustion.  These industrial substances are released by producers, users, and storage or disposal sites, and they permeate the environment via ground and surface water flow, air currents, and ocean currents. They may end up far from their origin in both space and time.

Marine life becomes contaminated as they ingest and absorb these substances in the water, sediments, and surface meniscus.  Top predators, including humans, get the largest doses as accumulation magnifies concentrations through the food chain. Similarly, scientific evidence of a connection between the health of marine animals and toxic pollutants has continued to accumulate over time.

NAMA seeks to transform policies and decision-making processes regarding chemicals, so that the impact of persistent, bioaccumulative toxins on sealife is adequately acknowledged and addressed in programs for rebuilding fish populations and in marine conservation plans.

Want a primer on toxics and the marine environment? Read From Sea to Toxic Sea, a four-part series first published in Fishermen's Voice.