Absence of mercury effects on fish populations of boreal reservoirs despite 3 to 6 fold increases in mercury concentrations
1 Environment Department, Hydro-Québec Production, Montreal, Québec, Canada, Schetagne
2 GENIVAR inc, Environmental Consultants, Québec, Québec, Canada
At the La Grande hydroelectric complex located in northern Quebec, Canada, mercury concentrations were measured in over 25 000 fish as part of an ongoing environmental effects monitoring program. Five fish species were monitored over a 30-year period: the non-piscivorous lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) and longnose sucker (Catostomus catostomus) and the piscivorous northern pike (Esox lucius), walleye (Sander vitreus) and lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush). Total mercury concentrations were measured by standard cold vapour atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Fish population characteristics, such as fishing yields, growth rates and condition factors were also monitored over a 20-year period. In reservoirs, mercury concentrations in all species increased rapidly after impoundment, peaking after 5 to 9 years in non-piscivorous fishes, and after 9 to 11 years in piscivorous species, at levels 3 to 6 times those measured in surrounding natural lakes, then significantly and gradually declined. Concentrations in most species have returned to levels typical of natural lakes, 10 to 30 years after flooding. Despite such increases, the monitored fish showed no mercury-related ill effects at the population level. For most species, increases were observed in fishing yields (by factors ranging from 2 to over 20), in growth rates and in condition factors (for more than a decade). The fishing yield increase was highest for northern pike of the Robert-Bourassa Reservoir, for which the highest average mercury concentrations were measured (3.28 μg g-1 (ww) for 700-mm fish). The biological boom usually observed after reservoir impoundment, resulting from increased nutrients, may have prevented potential mercury-related ill effects.
Key words: Mercury / Reservoirs / toxicity / fish populations
© Owned by the authors, published by EDP Sciences, 2013
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