Contaminants such as Persistent Organic Pollutants and mercury are transported globally from industrialized area to vulnerable Arctic climates and can have a negative impact on aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, as well as humans. Further increasing the impact are the results from model simulations that suggest climate change will affect contaminant pathways, bioaccumulation properties, and food web structure in the Arctic. Fish, shellfish, and marine mammals are major contributors to dietary exposure to contaminants in Alaska, and data are needed to evaluate the risks and benefits of consuming fish. The Alaska Fish Monitoring Program generates baseline data and then tracks changes in contaminant levels over time for management of resources, monitoring sources of contaminants, and evaluating effectiveness of remediation efforts.
Samples are collected from across the state in collaboration with other state, federal, tribal entities, and commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisherman. Samples are sent to the Alaska Environmental Health Laboratory to measure contaminant levels in skinless fillets, whole fish, and shellfish from freshwater, estuaries, and marine environments. The data are recorded into a database and then used to characterize and track contaminant levels in fish tissue from across the State.
From 2001 to 2015, over 7,300 samples of fish and shellfish, comprising 65 different species, have been collected and analyzed from around the state. The analyses thus far have not found high levels of contaminants that would raise concern for most of Alaskan fish but specific species of fish, and certain locations have been identified where restricted consumption recommendations have been advised to protect human health. In addition, regional differences have been noted that suggest that atmospheric transport of industrial emissions from Asia are a significant source of contamination to the North Pacific and Bering Sea. These data, combined with human biomonitoring data collected by the Department of Health and Social Services, are used to develop Alaska-specific fish consumption guidelines and information to make an informed dietary decision based on risks and benefits of eating Alaska fish.
These biomonitoring data provide the baseline information that is useful for state and federal agencies to ensure that the resources are safe and to provide relevant information to users to make informed decisions.