Persistent organic pollutants in Baltic herring (Clupea harengus)—an aspect of gender

  • Sophia Schubert
  • Nadia Keddig
  • Wolfgang Gerwinski
  • Jan Neukirchen
  • Ulrike Kammann
  • Michael Haarich
  • Reinhold Hanel
  • Norbert Theobald


Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are monitored regularly in water, sediment, and biota in the Baltic Sea. Lipophilic substances are measured in remarkable concentrations especially in the fatty parts of fish, such as herring (Clupea harengus). However, less lipophilic POPs, e.g. perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), can also be detected. For the first time to our knowledge, this study provides a broad range of contaminant concentrations simultaneously measured in filet, liver, and gonads of both sexes of Baltic herring. We analysed organochlorines, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and PFCs in mature autumn-spawning individuals and found distinct organ pollutant pattern for all POPs in both sexes. POP concentrations found in the gonads of both sexes indicate that not only females but also males tend to reduce contaminants via reproduction. However, sex-dependent differences could be identified for hexachlorobenzene, PBDEs, and were most remarkable for PFCs. This transfer of contaminants to the gonads in both male and female herring is being underestimated, as it may directly affect the general reproduction success as well as the healthy development of the next generation. Hence, the accumulation of contaminants in the gonads should be considered one possible threat to a healthy wildlife as its achievement is stated by the Baltic Sea Action Plan. Inclusion of a periodic monitoring of POP concentrations in gonads of fish may be an important bioeffect measure to assess the environmental status of biota in the Baltic Sea.


Baltic Sea Perfluorinated compounds Organochlorines Polybrominated diphenyl ethers Tissue distribution 



The authors thank Elke Hammermeister, Dagmar Korte, and Helga Wolter for their skilful technical assistance as well as Werner Wosniok for his thematic support. This study was incorporated into the research project ‘MERIT-MSFD: Methods for detection and assessment of risks for the marine ecosystem due to toxic contaminants in relation to the implementation of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive’. It was supported by a grant (grant number 10017012) from the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure and the German Maritime and Hydrographic Agency.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sophia Schubert
    • 1
  • Nadia Keddig
    • 1
  • Wolfgang Gerwinski
    • 2
  • Jan Neukirchen
    • 2
  • Ulrike Kammann
    • 1
  • Michael Haarich
    • 1
  • Reinhold Hanel
    • 1
  • Norbert Theobald
    • 2
  1. 1.Thünen Institute of Fisheries EcologyHamburgGermany
  2. 2.German Maritime and Hydrographic AgencyHamburgGermany

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