For more information on species & ecosystem science:

Wildlife Science
360-902-2515
wildthing@dfw.wa.gov

Fish Science
360-902-2700
fishpgm@dfw.wa.gov

Habitat Science
360-902-2534
habitatprogram@dfw.wa.gov

 

Marine Toxic Contaminants

Lead Scientist: James West

Ecoregions: Puget Trough

Ecological Systems: Not Available for Research Area

Sampling bottom fish for toxic contaminants outside Everett Harbor

 

© Harbour Publishing

English Sole (Parophrys vetulus) is a benthic (bottom-dwelling) fish that is the focus of extensive PSAMP research on the presence and accumulation of toxic contaminants in Puget Sound.

 

Toxic Contaminants in Puget Sound Fish and Shellfish

Puget Sound is a unique and extensive fjord-like system of inland marine and estuarine waters. Its shorelines and watersheds range from highly developed urbanized or industrialized to nearly pristine conditions. Throughout their life-cycles Puget Sound fish and shellfish can be exposed to a wide range and varying degrees of toxic contaminants.

Puget Sound’s physical geography and patterns of water movement may exacerbate the problem of toxics in its organisms. Narrow inlets and shallow sea-floor sills between basins restrict exchange of urbanized waters with relatively cleaner oceanic waters, resulting in a longer potential exposure time of organisms to toxic chemicals. In addition, freshwater inputs from stormwater, rivers and other terrestrial sources contribute to water-column stratification that may further restrict mixing between surface and deep waters. These freshwater inputs represent the greatest conveyance pathway of toxic contaminants to Puget Sound.

Puget Sound’s physical characteristics also promote biological isolation of its resident fish and shellfish, potentially increasing their risk of exposure to toxic contaminants. For example, long-lived rockfishes in Puget Sound’s central and southern basins may fully complete their life cycle within these urbanized waters, without ranging to less contaminated basins nearby. In addition, because the Puget Sound basin provides a broad range of habitats from deep marine waters to high-mountain lakes, many species can complete their entire life cycle within its waters, including highly migratory species such as coho and Chinook salmon. Chinook salmon that remain as residents and mature in Puget Sound experience a three-to five-fold exposure to some contaminants compared to others that migrate and grow to adulthood in the Pacific Ocean.

Scientists in WDFW’s Toxics in Biota Program have monitored the geographic extent and magnitude of toxic contaminants and tracked their changes in Puget Sound fish and shellfish since 1989. Their studies are designed to evaluate and track the complex patterns of contamination across the Sound by using indicator species and life-stages that cover a broad range of feeding habits, movement patterns, and habitats. Toxic chemicals or contaminant-metabolites within organisms covering a wide range of sources, persistence, toxicity, mode of action, and accumulation potential are measured at various spatial and temporal scales to address specific short- and long-term questions. Data generated from these studies are shared with Washington’s Department of Health and others to evaluate the safety of Puget Sound’s seafood for human consumption.

WDFW’s research on toxic contaminants in Puget Sound is a component of the Puget Sound Assessment and Monitoring Program (PSAMP) (formerly the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program). PSAMP is an extensive, unique network of regional scientists who monitor key indicators of ecosystem health including water and sediment quality, nearshore habitat, and the health or abundance of fish, shellfish, seabirds, and marine mammals. WDFW is the primary entity responsible for monitoring the abundance and diversity of Puget Sound sea life, and for evaluating toxic contaminants in these organisms.

All PSAMP activities are currently being evaluated in the context of the Puget Sound Partnership’s (PSP) Action Agenda, including the role that monitoring programs such as Toxics in Biota will play in the PSP’s developing Coordinated Ecosystem Monitoring Program in Puget Sound. Scientists from WDFW’s Toxics in Biota program and their partner agency (NOAA Fisheries’ Environmental Conservation Division, Seattle, WA) have proposed a monitoring and assessment program design for toxic contaminants focusing more directly on diagnosis, quantification, and tracking of toxics-related disease or harm. This ­Toxics-based Biological Observation System (tBiOS) has been proposed as a complement to the PSP Control of Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound strategy.

Publications, Reports and Resources

Toxic Contaminants in Puget Sound's Nearshore Biota: A Large-Scale Synoptic Survey Using Transplanted Mussels (Mytilus trossulus)

Toxic Contaminants in Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) and Spot Prawn (Pandalus platyceros) from Puget Sound, Washington, USA

2011/2012 Mussel Watch Phase 1 Sampling Summary and Progress Report

Blue Mussels as Indicators of Stormwater Pollution in Nearshore Marine Habitats in Puget Sound.

Control of Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound Phase 3:

Current conditions, time trends and recovery targets for toxic contaminants in Puget Sound fish: the Toxics in Fish Dashboard Indicator

Mussel Watch Pilot Expansion 2012/2013: a study of toxic contaminants in blue mussels (Mytilus trossulus) from Puget Sound Washington, USA

Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic Contaminants in Puget Sound's Pelagic Food Web

Quality Assurance Project Plan:

Johnson, L., C. Bravo, S. O’Neill, J. West, M. S. Myers, G. Ylitalo, N. Scholz, and T. Collier 2010. A Toxics-Focused Biological Observing System for Puget Sound (Developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and NOAA Fisheries for the Puget Sound Partnership). Washington Department of Ecology Publication #10-10-04. 30pp.

Lanksbury, J., J. E. West, K. Herrmann, A. Hennings, K. Litle and A. Johnson. 2010. Washington State 2009/10 Mussel Watch Pilot Project: A Collaboration between National, State and Local Partners. Olympia, WA.  Puget Sound Partnership,  283pp.

O'Neill, S.M., and J.E. West. 2009. Marine distribution, life history traits and the accumulation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) from Puget Sound, Washington. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 138:616-632.

West, J.E., S.M. O'Neill, and G.M. Ylitalo. 2008. Spatial extent, magnitude, and patterns of persistent organochlorine pollutants in Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) populations in the Puget Sound (USA) and the Georgia Basin (Canada). Science of The Total Environment 394:369-378.

Johnson, L.L., D.P. Lomax, M.S. Myers, O.P. Olson, S.Y. Sol, S.M. O'Neill, J. West, and T. K. Collier. 2008. Xenoestrogen exposure and effects in English sole (Parophrys vetulus) from Puget Sound, WA. Aquatic Toxicology 88(1):29-38.

West, J.E., and S.M. O'Neill. 2007. Thirty years of persistent bioaccumulative toxics in Puget Sound: time trends of PCBs and PBDE flame retardants in three fish species. 2007 Research in the Georgia Basin and Puget Sound Conference. Puget Sound Action Team. Vancouver, B.C.

O'Neill, S.M. and J.E. West. 2007. Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxics in the Food Web. Pages 140-148; 151-156 in Puget Sound Action Team, editors. 2007 Puget Sound Update: Ninth Report of the Puget Sound Assessment and Monitoring Program. Olympia, Washington.

O'Neill, S.M., G.M. Ylitalo, J.E. West., J.Bolton, C.A. Sloan, and M.M. Krahn. 2006. Regional patterns of persistent organic pollutants in five Pacific salmon species (Oncorhynchus spp.) and their contributions to contaminant levels in northern and southern resident killer whales (Orcinus orca). Presentation at 2006 Southern Resident Killer Whale Symposium. Seattle, Washington.

O'Neill, S.M., G.M. Ylitalo, M. . Krahn, J.E. West, J. Bolton, and D. Brown. 2005. Elevated levels of persistent organic pollutants in Puget Sound versus other free-ranging populations of Pacific salmon: the importance of residency in Puget Sound. Abstract of presentation at 2005 Puget Sound Georgia Basin Research Conference. Seattle, Washington.

Moser, M.L., M.S. Myers, B.J. Burke, and S.M. O'Neill. 2005. Effects of surgically-implanted transmitters on survival and feeding behavior of adult English sole. Pages 269-274 in M. T. Lembo and G. Marmulla, editors. Aquatic telemetry: advances and applications. Proceedings of the Fifth Conference on Telemetry held in Europe. FAO/COISPA, Ustica, Italy.

O'Neill, S.M., J.E. West, G.M. Ylitalo, C.A. Sloan, M.M. Krahn, and T.K. Collier. 2004. Concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in fish from Puget Sound, WA, USA. Poster presentation: SETAC World Congress and 25th Annual Meeting in North America Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. Portland, Oregon.

West, J. E., S. M. O'Neill, and D. D. Doty. 2002. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Dungeness crabs. Page 62 in Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team, editors. 2002 Puget Sound Update: Eighth Report of the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program. Olympia, Washington.

O'Neill, S.M., and J.E. West. 2002. Contaminants in Fish. Pages 66-77 in Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team, editors. 2002 Puget Sound Update: Eighth Report of the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program. Olympia, Washington.

West, J.E., S. M. O'Neill, G.R. Lippert, and S.R. Quinnell. 2001. Toxic contaminants in marine and anadromous fishes from Puget Sound, Washington: Results of the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program Fish Component, 1989-1999. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Olympia, Washington.

West, J., S. O'Neill, D. Lomax, and L. Johnson. 2001. Implications for reproductive health in quillback rockfish (Sebastes maliger) from Puget Sound exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls. Puget Sound Research 2001 Conference Proceedings. Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team. Olympia, Washington.

O'Neill, S.M., and J.E. West. 2001. Exposure of Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) to persistent organic pollutants in Puget Sound and the Georgia Basin. Puget Sound Research 2001 Conference Proceedings. Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team. Olympia, Washington.

O'Neill, S.M., and J.E. West. 2000. Toxic Contaminants in Fish. Pages 56-64 in Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team, editors. 2000 Puget Sound Update: Seventh Report of the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program. Olympia, Washington.

West, J.E., and S.M. O'Neill. 1998. Persistent pollutants and factors affecting their accumulation in rockfishes (Sebastes spp.) from Puget Sound, Washington. Pages 336-345 in R. Strickland, editor. Puget Sound Research 1998 Conference Proceedings. Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team. Olympia, Washington.

O'Neill, S.M., J.E. West, and J.C. Hoeman. 1998. Spatial trends in the concentration of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and coho salmon (O. kisutch) in Puget Sound and factors affecting PCB accumulation: results from the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program. Pages 312-328 in R. Strickland, editor. Puget Sound Research 1998 Conference Proceedings. Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team. Olympia, Washington.

West, J. E. 1997. Protection and restoration of marine life in the inland waters of Washington State. Puget Sound/Georgia Basin Environmental Report Series: Number 6. Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team. Olympia, Washington.

West, J.E., and S.M. O'Neill. 1995. Accumulation of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls in quillback rockfish (Sebastes maliger) from Puget Sound Washington. Pages 666-677 in E. Robichaud, editor. Puget Sound Research 1995 Conference Proceedings. Puget Sound Water Quality Authority. Olympia, Washington.

O'Neill, S.M., J.E. West, and S. Quinnell. 1995. Contaminant monitoring in fish: overview of the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Program Fish Task. Pages 35-50 in E. Robichaud, editor. Puget Sound Research 1995 Conference Proceedings. Puget Sound Water Quality Authority. Olympia, Washington.

West, J.E., R.M. Buckley, and D.C. Doty. 1994. Ecology and habitat use of juvenile rockfishes (Sebastes spp.) associated with artificial reefs in Puget Sound, Washington. Bulletin of Marine Science 55(2-3):344-350.