Are dioxin-like contaminants responsible for the eel (Anguilla anguilla) drama?
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Eel populations worldwide are dangerously close to collapsing. Our study is the first to show that current levels of dioxin-like contaminants are strong candidates because of their devastating effects on development and survival of eel embryos. Female and male silver eels were artificially stimulated to maturation and reproduction by treatment with carp pituitary extracts and hCG, respectively. During maturation of female European silver eels, about 60 g fat per kg eel is incorporated in the oocytes. Together with the fat, however, persistent organic pollutants such as dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are incorporated too. The total dioxin-like toxic potency of the individual gonad batches was determined as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxine equivalents (TEQs), using an in vitro reporter gene assay. The observed differences in development and survival showed a significant negative correlation with the TEQ levels in the gonads, already at levels far below the maximal allowable level for fish consumption, i.e., 4 ng TEQ/kg fish. The clear inverse relationship between the TEQ level and the survival period of the fertilised eggs strongly suggests that the current levels of dioxin-like compounds seriously impair the reproduction of the European eel. The peak of the environmental levels of dioxin-like PCBs and the decline of eel coincide worldwide, further suggesting that, in addition to other threats, these contaminants contributed significantly to the current collapse in eel populations.
KeywordsPCBs TCDD Carp Pituitary Extract Dioxin Response Element Relative Gonadal Weight
We thank M. Nieveen, H. van den Berg, F. Daverat, M. Casteleijn, E. Clavero, R. Rutgers and M. Richardson for their contribution. This research was funded by EU contract EELREP no. Q5RS-2001-01836. Experiments comply with the current laws of the Netherlands and were approved by the animal experimental commission.
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