Mercury Data Collection Underway in 2016
Our Peace Region Board approved a comprehensive study to collect tissue samples from fish in the Williston and Dinosaur Reservoirs and tributaries, in order to measure mercury concentrations. The mercury data collection project started in June 2016 and will take up to two years to complete. The results of this study, which will be combined with and compared to information collected previously, will provide updated information on mercury levels in several fish species in the reservoirs and their tributaries. A preliminary report is expected in the spring 2017 with a final report likely in 2018.
The goal is to improve our understanding of mercury in fish in all parts of the reservoir system, and to provide this information to agencies responsible for advising the public on fish consumption so that they have enough information to consider in developing any potential revised mercury public advisory.
This is one of many fish and wildlife projects the FWCP is funding in its Peace Region in 2016-17. Learn more about Peace Region projects.
First Nation Involvement
The consultants selected to coordinate the mercury sampling and analysis – Azimuth Consulting Group Partnership – will offer training to First Nations in scientific protocols for fish tissue sampling and handling to ensure all samples are collected and processed in the same manner, and will also provide fish tissue sampling kits. The training and kits will give First Nations the opportunity to collect tissues from important species and locations.
2015 Mercury Reconnaissance Report
In 2015, we initiated data collection from researchers and others working around the Williston and Dinosaur reservoirs. Through this effort, and with the addition of archived fish samples, 79 fish samples were collected and a preliminary analysis that measured total mercury, metals, selenium and stable isotopes was conducted. Learnings and data collected through this work assisted in the development of the comprehensive study now underway. Read the report.
Mercury is a Priority for FWCP and its Partners
We’re working to fill information gaps about mercury levels in fish in the Dinosaur and Williston reservoirs. And we’re helping bring First Nations and local stakeholders together to address this important issue.
We know that mercury levels in fish caught in Williston and Dinosaur reservoirs are a priority concern for local First Nations and others. Our Action Plan for Reservoirs (2014) defined objectives, and recommended three specific actions to address mercury in the FWCP’s Peace Region.
What is the FWCP’s Role?
Our role is to facilitate dialogue among partners, including engagement with First Nations, and oversee the scientific collection of relevant data. We do not have a mandate to specifically address human health issues related to fish consumption but we are committed to working with others in the region to fill information gaps and support a process to provide information to agencies responsible for human health.
In 2015, the FWCP:
- Undertook “opportunistic” fish sampling in order to begin data collection. Seventy-nine fish were sampled “opportunistically” and have been tested for mercury, selenium and heavy metals by an internationally-accredited laboratory. New Report 2015 Mercury Reconnaissance Report
- Carried out initial communications with Northern Health and local First Nations, including the First Nations Health Authority.
- Brought interested partners together and formed a Mercury Technical Working Group to advise our Peace Regional Board on technical issues related to mercury.
- Worked with the Mercury Technical Working Group, our Peace Regional Board and First Nations’ Working Group, to develop a comprehensive plan to collect and analyze fish tissue samples in the Williston and Dinosaur Reservoirs for mercury analysis starting in 2016.
- Finalized a 2015 Peace Williston Mercury Report as part of ongoing mercury investigations.
- Issued a mercury update.
Why is the FWCP Involved?
Since 2008, the FWCP has worked closely with regional First Nations to determine how best to incorporate their interests, and facilitate their partnership and participation in the FWCP. In 2012, the FWCP’s First Nation Working Group (FNWG) was established through a Memorandum of Understanding. The FNWG is responsible for ensuring First Nation considerations and input are included in FWCP planning and projects. We now have nine First Nations represented on the FNWG and our Regional Board.
The FWCP’s strategic planning process concluded in 2014 with the completion of a Peace Basin Plan and six Action Plans that will guide our work in our Peace Region over the next several years. This planning process confirmed mercury as a priority for the FWCP.
The FWCP’s strategic planning process (completed in 2014) included broad participation from First Nations, agencies and the public. This planning process identified mercury as a high-priority issue. Our Action Plan for Reservoirs (2014) defined objectives, and recommended three specific actions to address mercury in the FWCP’s Peace Region.
Reservoirs Action Plan Objective 3:
Understand concentrations and pathways of mercury and other contaminants related to reservoir creation, and support defining risks for humans and the broader ecosystem.
Improve understanding of mercury concentrations, contamination pathways, and potential effects on human health and the broader ecosystem.
Recommended Mercury Actions:
- Develop a Terms of Reference for an appropriate Mercury Impacts Assessment Study in collaboration with First Nations and regulatory agencies. (Done)
- Support and/or carry out Mercury Impacts Assessment Study. (Underway)
- Carry out high priority recommendations from Mercury study. (Underway)
More detailed information on the recommended actions above can be found in the Reservoirs Action Plan.
Participants in the strategic planning process suggested that the FWCP is in an excellent position to initiate and lead a First Nation and multi-stakeholder, regional partnership to collect mercury samples and provide the results to relevant provincial agencies that could ultimately lead to an updated interpretation of the mercury advisory that is annually published in the provincial fishing regulations guide.
Mercury in the Environment
Mercury is found naturally in air, water, sediment, soil, plants, animals and fish. The creation of a new reservoir leads to the conversion of naturally occurring inorganic mercury in flooded soil and vegetation into methylmercury that can bio-accumulate in fish that prey on other fish. Over time, the concentration of mercury in the reservoir returns back to its natural background level.
There are two main forms of mercury in the environment: 1) the elemental form (Hg) existing as a liquid and a gas and 2) the organic or methylmercury (MeHg) form, which is a more toxic form of mercury that is present in all animals. Methylmercury is the main form of mercury found in fish, which is why there are sometimes advisories for fish, but not for other animals.