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How Happy Pills Might Catch You More Fish

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February 15, 2013

How Happy Pills Might Catch You More Fish

By Joe Cermele

There have been many studies conducted on the effects of various contaminants on fish in waterways all over the world, from nuclear waste, to cosmetic residues, to crude oil. But up until I found this article in the New York Times, I'd never given any thought to how much antidepressant medication can end up in lakes and rivers, and what effects human happy pills might have on fish. And guess what? According to a study outlined in the story, Zoloft, Prozac, and all those other meds that make us happy make fish happy too...kind of.

To get a better understanding of how psychiatric drugs in waterways effect fish, a research team in Sweden exposed perch to the drug Oxazepam, which, per the story, is commonly found in varying levels in rivers around the globe. Oxazepam gets there by being flushed, discarded, or excreted.

The team started with perch from the Fyris River that already had traces of Oxazepam in their tissue. After hatching baby perch from the roe of the collected fish, they set up tanks and exposed each test group of babies to different amounts of the drug. Here's what they found:

The more Oxazepam [the perch] ingested the more active the fish were, measured by the number of swimming motions in a 10-minute period. They were also less social, spending less time near a section of the tank with other fish and more time near an empty compartment. And they were quicker to grab and eat zooplankton. At the highest Oxazepam concentration, fish were also bolder, measured by how long it took them to leave a box [marked off] in the tank and explore new territory.

So are antidepressants good for fish? Not really. Those changes in behavior are still unnatural and could have long-term negative effects on fish populations. But in the short term, I guess if you happen to find a river with higher levels of happy juice, that 7-pound smallie or 50-inch muskie might be more likely to take a swing at your lure, and smile at your while they're doing it. I can just hear the guys who gave us Berkley Gulp! scheming right now. Have a great weekend.

Comments (5)

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from Koldkut wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

There was a similar study done on synthetic hormones passed through the Boulder water treatment plant, it found that fish downstream that had been exposed to the synthetic estrogen found in birth control had made the fish change genders......and now we know why Boulderites are the way they are...:)

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from krwheeler wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Are you serious? What you're talking about would be like throwing one paxil in an Olympic size swimming pool, and saying that it affects the fish. This sounds to me like the bunny-huggers talking about the lead from hunters' bullets causing increased lead level in eagles.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from hermit crab wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

krwheeler,
Yeah, they're serious. It has an effect, but it's tough to extrapolate little effects like that onto the whole population (which is all we really care about, after all). Most of the more "severe" effects (if you can even call them that) occured at doses much higher than they saw in the fish. Regardless, even at the really low doses found in the environment, it does a truly measurable effect on the fish's physiology.

The lead issue's been debated exhaustively multiple times. If you want to argue it, you're ignoring the hard evidence. It all boils down to who you want to believe: a scientist who has dedicated their life to studying those things for a living, or a lobbyist for ammo manufacturers and shooting sports.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from stick500 wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

the article didn't mention it, but there's also a bunch of caffeine floating around in most of the U.S. waters from this same effect

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Scout79 wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Saying lead fragments causes "increased lead levels in eagles" is an understatement. Lead kills them. It takes a piece of lead the size of a fingernail clipping to shut an eagle's kidneys down and kill it. It takes a while for them to die. They end up on the ground and if they don't get found by humans, they either get killed by raccoons, coyotes or simply succumb to the poison. I've seen it with my own eyes and it changed the way I do things. The last one I saw went from standing and fighting in the morning to dead with green crud leaking from it's mouth and nares by 7PM that night.
Secondary poisoning is a very real and very serious issue for our wildlife. Also, if there's one thing I've learned from all the OSHA, MSHA, and NFPA training I've been through, its that when it comes to chemicals, it can take very little to do a lot of damage.
Just because it's "safe" for humans doesn't mean its going to be safe for other animals to come into contact with. No bunny-hugging, just science.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

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from hermit crab wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

krwheeler,
Yeah, they're serious. It has an effect, but it's tough to extrapolate little effects like that onto the whole population (which is all we really care about, after all). Most of the more "severe" effects (if you can even call them that) occured at doses much higher than they saw in the fish. Regardless, even at the really low doses found in the environment, it does a truly measurable effect on the fish's physiology.

The lead issue's been debated exhaustively multiple times. If you want to argue it, you're ignoring the hard evidence. It all boils down to who you want to believe: a scientist who has dedicated their life to studying those things for a living, or a lobbyist for ammo manufacturers and shooting sports.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from stick500 wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

the article didn't mention it, but there's also a bunch of caffeine floating around in most of the U.S. waters from this same effect

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Scout79 wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Saying lead fragments causes "increased lead levels in eagles" is an understatement. Lead kills them. It takes a piece of lead the size of a fingernail clipping to shut an eagle's kidneys down and kill it. It takes a while for them to die. They end up on the ground and if they don't get found by humans, they either get killed by raccoons, coyotes or simply succumb to the poison. I've seen it with my own eyes and it changed the way I do things. The last one I saw went from standing and fighting in the morning to dead with green crud leaking from it's mouth and nares by 7PM that night.
Secondary poisoning is a very real and very serious issue for our wildlife. Also, if there's one thing I've learned from all the OSHA, MSHA, and NFPA training I've been through, its that when it comes to chemicals, it can take very little to do a lot of damage.
Just because it's "safe" for humans doesn't mean its going to be safe for other animals to come into contact with. No bunny-hugging, just science.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Koldkut wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

There was a similar study done on synthetic hormones passed through the Boulder water treatment plant, it found that fish downstream that had been exposed to the synthetic estrogen found in birth control had made the fish change genders......and now we know why Boulderites are the way they are...:)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from krwheeler wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Are you serious? What you're talking about would be like throwing one paxil in an Olympic size swimming pool, and saying that it affects the fish. This sounds to me like the bunny-huggers talking about the lead from hunters' bullets causing increased lead level in eagles.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report

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