A group of Queen’s University faculty members and students, led by Professor Peter Hodson and PhD student Roxanne Razavi, sent a letter today to Prime Minister Stephen Harper requesting the reversal of all cuts to research in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) related to chemical contamination and toxicity to aquatic species. The protesters highlighted DFO’s responsibilities to Canadians under the Fisheries Act. These include the protection of fish, fisheries, and human health from pollutants discharged to coastal waters and estuaries, and inland waters that cross boundaries with the United States or between Canadian provinces and territories. DFO also has a unique responsibility for marine mammals. These cuts will eliminate protection of iconic species such as Killer and Beluga Whales, among the most contaminated organisms on earth.

The cuts will destroy Canada’s capacity to identify emerging issues of chemical contamination, and to develop programs to mitigate and prevent chemical impacts on communities, economies, and human health dependent on healthy and safe commercial and recreational fisheries.

As Professor Hodson states: “It is clear that fish do not vote!!  In the face of rapid urban, industrial, and resource developments, the cuts represent a clear trade-off between economy and healthy fisheries, and all the social, nutritional, economic, and recreational benefits these fisheries generate.  Unless these cuts are reversed, Canada will have no capacity to understand, predict, and forestall future chemical crises affecting our fisheries”.

The letter highlights previous crises resolved by DFO’s toxicologists and chemists, including the shellfish toxin crisis of the late 1980s that killed some consumers and threatened the entire shellfish industry, and the application of cutting-edge technology in an award-winning program to monitor the distribution of deep plumes of oil in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Spill.

Hodson also decried suggestions that these programs of research be transferred to universities: “University professors cannot be involved in day-to-day fisheries management to identify emerging issues. Professors have full-time jobs teaching, administering, and carrying out fundamental research. They do not have access to the major facilities that governments can afford, and they could not replace government scientists investigating sensitive international issues related to trans-boundary movement of contaminants, migratory species, and international waters”.