Assessing mercury accumulation in Alaskan fishes using chemical feeding ecology

Poster Presentation

Prepared by

Contact Information: [email protected]; 907-699-9722


Mercury can be transported on a global scale, accumulating in both sediments and biota far from any known sources of mercury such as cinnabar ore, volcanic activity, coal combustion, or mining. Through the processes of bioaccumulation and biomagnification, mercury levels in fish tissues can surpass those considered of concern for human health. Monitoring mercury concentrations can illuminate numerous concerns related to the One Health concept, ranging from individual human consumption safety to resource management and policy. Here we highlight three research projects with varied goals and collection methods but the same overarching questions: how much mercury is accumulating in fish from each region and how can we most efficiently monitor changes in this accumulation? We assessed mercury accumulation in Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma) from two national parks in southeast Alaska to help guide the development of a freshwater contaminants monitoring protocol for the National Park Service. We then collaborated with the fishing industry to collect samples of both target and bycatch species from the Bering Sea groundfish fishery to assess chemical feeding ecology of fish from that region. Finally, we collaborated with the Alaskan village of Kotzebue to collect various fish species from Kotzebue Sound that are important to native subsistence fishing peoples, and track the accumulation of mercury to human consumers. Across all projects, we performed chemical analyses on muscle from 1,500+ fish from 25 species, covering tens of thousands of square miles of the marine and freshwater environment in Alaska. We demonstrate that any project with the intent of monitoring mercury in fish must be carefully designed with the specific aim of the monitoring question, ranging from specific ecological questions, to human-specific consumption concerns. We also highlight the benefits of collaborating with groups of interest to allow for more cost effective and efficient monitoring of mercury in fish.