A methodology for a physiology-based, ecologically relevant assessment of fish health, to provide information on the impact of chemically dispersed oil on marine fish
The FishHealth project aims to:
1. Validate a methodology to assess the health status of a fish population, diagnosing the fish condition with physical tests in a manner analogous to studies in human health.
2. Determine the threshold for fish avoidance reactions to water soluble fractions of oil and to suspended oil droplets due to dispersants treatment, examining fish behavioural response (avoidance reaction and spatial distribution) to increasing doses of oil droplets and water soluble fraction.
3. Investigate the dose-effect relationship on fish in the presence of oil and dispersant and, by transferring the treated fish to a set of semi-natural tidal ponds, evaluate the capacity of the proposed methodologies to provide a future prognosis for an affected population. This can potentially provide operational information for the use of oil dispersant in coastal waters.
From ITOPF’s perspective, the project addresses two areas of “fish health” where the results may have a direct input into the operational aspects of the response to an oil spill:
- Seafood quality – assist in assessing the potential risks of tainting of fish stocks when dispersants are used.
- The impacts of dispersant use on fin fish populations – provide information on whether fish survival/growth of stocks exposed to dispersants might be impacted in the medium- and longer-term.
Both these areas have obvious economic considerations when managing fish stocks during a spill (e.g. harvesting bans) and on the potential claims for compensation for longer term reduced fish ‘health’ (e.g. reduced reproductive capacity, increased mortality etc.) Linked closely with these points are the operational considerations whereby questions regarding whether or not to use dispersants (due to concerns for the local fish stocks) can be evaluated alongside scientific data to support the advice given.
The first results of FishHealth will be known by the end of 2012.