August 20, 2008

Mutant Oil Sands Fish something out of the Simpsons

Remember that Simpsons episode with the fish with three eyes? Blinky was his name.

Well something similar has happened in Alberta, Canada, where the oil industry has been raping the land with their oil-sands projects, and creating ridiculous amounts of pollution. The recent high oil prices has caused a spike in oil-sands production and the amount of waste pollution being tossed into nearby rivers.

But is that pollution enough to cause mutant fish?

In Fort Chipewyan information about a mutated fish caught downstream from Alberta’s oilsands region will be sent to a joint government-industry group that monitors the health of rivers and lakes.

The 2.5-kilogram goldeye caught last week in Lake Athabasca has two mouths, one beneath the other.

Two boys pointed the deformed fish out to Stuart Macmillan, Parks Canada’s manager of resource conservation at Wood Buffalo National Park, who studied it before handing it over to the Mikesew First Nation.

“We had just pulled up to the dock and some kids came over and said, `Hey, we’ve got a fish over here with two mouths,” Macmillan said Tuesday.

“It was really unusual. The fish has an obvious abnormality. I had never seen anything like that myself before. I can’t speculate on what might have caused it.”

Macmillan said Parks Canada has not tested the fish, which was caught outside the park boundary, but he will forward a report on the mutation to the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program in Alberta.

RAMP includes Alberta Environment, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Health Canada, oilsands corporations and aboriginal groups. It was established to identify and address the potential impacts of oilsands development.

The two-mouthed fish created a stir at the Keepers of the Water conference on the weekend at Fort Chipewyan, about 600 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

Aboriginal communities downstream of the oilsands have expressed concerns about how industrial development is affecting the animals that they eat and their drinking water. Elders believe pollution is responsible for high cancer rates and other health problems in the region.

George Poitras of the Mikesew Cree said he quickly froze the fish and later put it on display for 20 minutes at the conference on a bucket of ice.

“It was important for the fish to be displayed at the conference to show people what we have been claiming all along,” Poitras said.

“People were in disbelief. Here they saw a fish that we suspect is very much linked to tarsands development and contamination of the Athabasca River. Our elders tell us that what happens to the animals and the fish is just a sign of what is going to happen to human life.”

Health Canada and the Alberta Cancer Board said earlier this year they plan to study cancer rates in the Fort Chipewyan area.

A federal fisheries official acknowledged the department is a member of RAMP but doesn’t get directly involved when mutated fish are reported.

RAMP chairwoman Janice Linehan said the program has been testing fish in waterways downstream of the oilsands for 12 years. While no one has ever found a two-mouthed fish before other deformities have been studied.

Linehan said to her knowledge there has never been a scientific link to fish deformities and oilsands activity.

“For the most part what we have been getting is natural parasites and fin erosion, which are normal in sand-bed rivers,” Linehan said. “Throughout the 12 years there has been no significant impact shown from oilsands development.”

Poitras said the Mikesew plan to send the fish to an independent lab for testing. He said the band will not send the fish to RAMP, because it doesn’t trust the organization to provide an objective assessment.

The Mikesew is a member of RAMP, but is planning to withdraw from the group, Poitras said.

“It is very heavily represented by industry and government and we feel that it doesn’t do any justice as far as accurately representing any data to the community,” Poitras said. “This is evidence and we need to ensure that is preserved.”

According to RAMP, it is normal to occasionally find deformed fish and that physical injuries or increased water temperatures in the egg stage can cause mutations.

Abnormalities can include growths or tumours, lesions and missing or additional fins. Two-mouthed fish are not listed on the RAMP website.

Linehan said RAMP plans to do a better job of communicating test results with remote communities.

“Some of the community concern was that even if they were bringing them in (fish for testing), I don’t think RAMP was doing a great job in communicating back to those individuals about the testing,” she said.

A two-mouthed trout was caught in Nebraska in 2005 and sparked headlines around the world.

Nebraska fisheries officials speculated the deformity was caused by genetic mutation.

The angler who caught the two-mouthed trout cut off its head and donated it to Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

The man said he kept the body, which he ate. He later said he wished he had kept the fish intact and had it mounted for posterity.

See also: Ontario's Untapped Oil Reserves

1 comment:

  1. This two-jawed fish was a big source of inspiration for my latest musical project, a funky jab at the food industry and dodgy environmental practices:

    And here's my posting about the fish:


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