Stephen Colbert’s happy salmon probably should’ve been a little more famished-looking.
Another study on the effects the drugs we take have on some of Puget Sound’s most prized denizens has come out and it shows fish at the mouths of certain watersheds are more likely to be starving at a key time in their lifecycle.
Where the 2016 late-night skit focused on illicit drugs and how they made “Sammy the salmon” less wary of predators — “I will fight a grizzly bear!” the puppet tells the host — the new paper shows that exposure to our medications “may result in early mortality or an impaired ability to compete for limited resources.”
According to James P. Meador of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Andrew Yeh and Evan P. Gallagher at the University of Washington, it’s most pronounced in Chinook, coveted by sport and tribal fishermen.
Essentially, the young salmon are picking up “contaminants of emerging concern,” or CECs, as they swim below wastewater treatment plants as the head for the open ocean.
The scientists did their work with Chinook gathered off the Puyallup and Nisqually Rivers and in Sinclair Inlet, and uncontaminated ones from the Gold Bar and Voights Creek Hatcheries.
An early clue there might be problems in the Puyallup and Sinclair Inlet came after half of those salmon died in transport to the lab, not unlike what happened to rainbow trout exposed to effluent in a previous study.
The study, headlined “Adverse metabolic effects in fish exposed to contaminants of emerging concern in the field and laboratory” and published in the journal Environmental Pollution in February, suggests that upgrades may be needed at our region’s poop purification stations.
“Wastewater-treatment plants have been engineered to clean out trash and remove and disinfect solids, but they mostly can’t screen out drugs that people take — and express through elimination. The drugs pass through the plants into Puget Sound in wastewater effluent,” writes Lynda Mapes of The Seattle Times, who first reported the work.