Embryotoxicity of dioxin-like chemicals extracted from American eels (Anguilla rostrata) from the St. Lawrence River System
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The American eel (Anguilla rostrata) has suffered a serious population decline in Lake Ontario since the early 1980s due to a decline in recruitment of juveniles migrating from the Sargasso Sea. This has resulted in the closure of the Lake Ontario fishery in 2004 and its listing as endangered under the Ontario Species at Risk act in June of 2008 in Ontario. Due to their complex life cycle, little is known about eels once they leave their freshwater habitats and migrate to the Sargasso Sea to reproduce. Ocean conditions, habitat destruction, disease, reduced lipid content, over-fishing, physical barriers (hydroelectric dams), and chemical contamination are all possible reasons for recruitment decline and may be acting cumulatively. Maternally derived dioxin-like contaminants (DLCs) accumulated during the growth phase of eels in Lake Ontario are toxic to fish embryos, and embryotoxicity is expressed as a series of malformations known as blue sac disease (BSD). I assessed whether these toxicants are in high enough concentrations in sexually maturing, eels to be embryotoxic to their offspring, as assessed by using Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes), a surrogate species. Medaka embryos were first injected with 2,3,7,8-tetracholordibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) to establish their sensitivity to this test chemical expressed as an 11-day EC50 of 3.79 pg/mg, for the induction of BSD. Medaka embryos were injected with eel extracts and their response compared to the TCDD toxicity curve to assess whether extracts caused developmental problems and to estimate the relative concentration of DLCs. Eel extracts from all collection sites caused no dioxin-like toxicity to Japanese medaka embryos. However, significantly higher toxicity at 10 eeq relative to triolein was found for all extracts with no differences among sites, suggesting the presence of non-dioxin-like toxicants. The low level of maternal tissue contamination by DLCs implied by this bioassay is mirrored in chemical monitoring of persistent organic pollutants in Lake Ontario fish. If correct, the low levels of toxicity of extracts to embryos could contribute to the observed increase of eels entering L. Ontario from 2003 to 2008.