Research funded by the National Contaminants Advisory Group (NCAG)

The National Contaminants Advisory Group (NCAG) facilitates the provision of science advice for DFO on the biological effects of contaminants on aquatic species. Researchers working external to DFO are funded to generate knowledge on priority contaminant issues for DFO.

Description Eco-region Year(s) Project Status
Impacts of crude oil and dispersants on capelin (Mallotus villosus) reproductive performance

This project will test how interactions between crude oil and oil dispersants affect spawning capelin (their gamete quality and embryo development) in ways that would impair larval recruitment. Commercially exploited capelin (Mallotus villosus) are the most important fish in the northwest Atlantic food web (and are of significance in the Arctic and Pacific), being major forage for top predators such as Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), marine mamm...

Principal investigator: Craig Purchase

Atlantic: Gulf of Maine, Scotian Shelf 2016 - 2017 Completed
The toxicity and molecular effects of mechanically- and chemically-dispersed diluted bitumen (dilbit) to Eastern Canadian fish species

The development of pipeline projects across Canada is expected to expand shipments of diluted bitumen (dilbit) through vital freshwater and marine watersheds containing economically-important fish species. Futhermore, the expanding deep-water oil exploration and development off Canada’s east coast, and the potential sub-surface application of dispersants in the event of a blow-out, raise important questions about risks to commercially-importa...

Principal investigator: Valérie Langlois

Atlantic: Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence Estuary 2015 2016- 2017 Completed
The environmental effects of diluted bitumen on Pacific estuarine and marine organisms in the Straights of Georgia / Juan de Fuca area of British Columbia

Canada is the sixth largest oil producing country in the world producing an average of 197,000 m3 /d of bitumen, mostly from oil sands in northern Alberta. Canadian pipeline companies have proposed a number of major new transmission pipelines from this area, as well as increases in rail transport and the use of existing and proposed new marine terminals for tanker export of bitumen to overseas markets. In British Columbia (BC),...

Principal investigator: Christopher Kennedy

Pacific: Strait of Georgia 2015 2016- 2017 Completed
The effects of the aquatic herbicide diquat on non-target aquatic biota – a mesocosm study

Native aquatic plant communities are essential components of healthy aquatic ecosystems and provide key habitat, refuge and food for aquatic species including fish. In contrast, invasive aquatic plant species are a significant threat to the health of aquatic ecosystems and can severely impair waterways. The effects of invasive plant species are compounded by nutrient enrichment, which can result in nuisance levels of native and invasive aquat...

Principal investigator: Frances Pick

National 2015 2016- 2017 Completed
The effects of anti-sea lice therapeutants on sensitive life stages of non-target species in combination with different stressors

Canada is the fourth-largest producer of farmed salmon in the world. In 2013, Canada’s salmon aquaculture sector had a farm-gate value of $816 million and provided 10,000 jobs. A sustainable salmon aquaculture sector is dependent on its ability to control pests and diseases primarily through the use of drugs and pesticides collectively known as therapeutants. To protect human health and the environment, these products are regulated by Health ...

Principal investigator: Christopher Kennedy

National 2015 2016- 2017 Completed
The biological effects of exposure of marine organisms to current-use pesticides detected in high-latitude areas

Current-use pesticides are carried through the air to arctic environments, where they are detected in the air, water, snow, sediments and organisms. Pesticides can be detected in water but generally occur in low concentrations. These pesticides are also detected in marine organisms, but current knowledge does not allow us to say whether these concentrations have adverse effects on organisms. This research project therefore aims to determine w...

Principal investigator: Jean-Pierre Gagn

Arctic: Canadian Arctic Archipelago 2015 2016- 2017 Completed
Sublethal biological effects on blue mussels of conventional and unconventional oil dispersed physically and chemically in a cold marine environment

The blue mussel is an important species in Canada, valued for its role in the aquaculture industry, its significance in the traditional diet of coastal populations, its role in the marine ecosystem, and its wide geographic range. When oil spills occur, chemical dispersants may be used to rapidly decrease concentrations of petroleum products in the affected area. An oil spill under ice cover in a coastal area could result in chronic pollution ...

Principal investigator: Richard Saint-Louis

Pacific: Vancouver Island West Coast 2015 2016- 2017 Completed
Recovery of neural function in lobsters following sub-lethal Salmosan® exposure

The Canadian aquaculture industry is currently valued at $1 billion per year, most of which is generated through salmon farming along Canada’s Pacific and Atlantic Coasts. Rearing salmon in sea cages can pose many challenges to farmers, including the need to treat for sea lice infestations in order to maintain healthy farmed populations and for minimizing any risk of sea lice transfer to wild fish. As with terrestrial farming, the salmon aqua...

Principal investigator: Tillmann Benfey

Pacific: North Coast and Hecate Strait 2015 2016- 2017 Completed
Impacts of pulsed applications of the aquatic herbicide diquat bromide on fish

Aquatic herbicides are a group of pesticides used to control aquatic weeds and invasive plants in surface waters. Diquat bromide is a registered pesticide that is commonly used in agriculture (e.g. potato, beans, and seed crops), but also in controlling aquatic submerged and floating weeds. The recommended timing of the pesticide application is once weeds are visible and in an active stage of growth, which can coincide with important spawning...

Principal investigator: Vicki Marlatt

National 2015 2016- 2017 Completed
Development of water quality assessment methods and toxicity reference values for northern biota in northern environments

Canada’s North holds abundant resources, and exploration and development are expected to significantly increase, with a promise of economic benefits for communities. These northern environments are also pristine, considered fragile, and experiencing unprecedented climate change. Therefore, a key aspect of ensuring sustainable resource development is an understanding of the potential for impacts, and establishing appropriate northern-specific ...

Principal investigator: James McGeer

Arctic: Canadian Arctic Archipelago 2015 2016- 2017 Completed
Development of epigenetic biomarkers to evaluate the effects of exposure to PAHs in fish

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are toxic chemicals that are important components of crude oil. Fish are exposed to background levels of PAHs in many aquatic environments across Canada, including the St. Lawrence basin. The “Stratégie Maritime du Québec” suggests that tanker traffic will increase significantly in the coming decades, making the possibility of an oil spill and exposure to high levels of PAHs in the St. Lawrence River mo...

Principal investigator: Jessica Head

National 2015 2016- 2017 Completed
Toxicity of diluted bitumen to Canadian marine and freshwater fish species

Proposals to transport diluted bitumen (Dilbit) from Alberta to coastal terminals on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts have raised concerns among Canadians about the potential impacts of spills in marine and freshwater ecosystems. Although toxicity of other crude and refined oils has been tested extensively, toxicity of Dilbit and its components (i.e., bitumen and oil-gas condensates) is less well known. In general, the potential impacts o...

Principal investigator: Valérie Langlois

National 2014 20152016- 2017 Completed
Neonicotinoid insecticide toxicity to aquatic organisms: Addressing key knowledge gaps on toxicity thresholds, mixtures and mitigation strategies using buffer zones

Pesticide impacts to aquatic ecosystems are a national and global concern. This research project aims to investigate a class of insecticides known as the neonicotinoids which represent the largest selling insecticide class and seed treatment in the global market. In Canada, they are widely used on diverse field crops that represent the bulk of the nations’ agricultural production: canola (oilseed rape), cereals, soybeans and corn, and are fre...

Principal investigator: Christy Morrisse

Central Canada: Lake Winnipeg, Nelson River Drainage Basin 2014 20152016- 2017 Completed
Health risk-based evaluation of emerging pollutants in killer whales (Orcinus orca): priority-setting in support of recovery

British Columbia’s killer whale populations are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world and face risks related to the effects of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and related contaminants such as polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs). While PCBs have long been banned, they continue to present toxic risks to marine mammals, along with a number of other, newly emerging persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) contaminants. Sin...

Principal investigators: Frank Gobas, Peter Ross

Pacific: Vancouver Island West Coast 2014 20152016- 2017 Completed
Environmental fate and effects of sea lice pesticides used in Canadian salmon aquaculture

The environmental quality of coastal waters and estuaries is a priority for Canadians, and where there may be concerns, an improved understanding of chemical impacts on near-shore ecosystems is essential to the responsible management of Canada's coastal areas. In recent years, Canadian aquaculture has become a billion dollar a year industry and the fourth-largest producer of farmed salmon in the world, however, this industry's use of anti-sea...

Principal investigator: Chris Kennedy

Pacific: Vancouver Island West Coast 2014 20152016- 2017 Completed
Environmental effects of diluted bitumen on Pacific salmonids

Canada is the sixth largest oil producing country in the world yielding an average of 197,000 m3/d of bitumen, mostly from oil sands in northern Alberta. Canadian pipeline companies have proposed a number of major new transmission pipelines from this area, increases in rail transport, and new marine terminal development for tanker export of bitumen to overseas markets. In BC, the routes of existing and proposed pipelines traverse the Fraser...

Principal investigator: Chris Kennedy

Pacific: North Coast and Hecate Strait 2014 20152016- 2017 Completed
Effects of environmentally-relevant concentrations of neonicotinoids and mixtures of pesticides prevalent in British Columbia surface waters on salmonid health

Current-use pesticides represent a potential health concern for anadromous salmonids throughout the Fraser River Basin. Pesticide contamination can be extensive in agricultural and urban watersheds and recent monitoring has shown that surface waters in major tributaries to the main stem of the Fraser River are frequently contaminated with diverse mixtures of insecticides, herbicides, and other biocidal compounds. The consequences of pesticide...

Principal investigator: Vicki Marlatt

Pacific: Vancouver Island West Coast 2014 20152016- 2017 Completed
Effects of diluted bitumen exposure during early life stages on the aerobic capacity and cardiac health of Pacific sockeye salmon

Diluted bitumen is currently transported in Canada, and it is anticipated that shipped volumes will increase in the future. Accidental releases near rivers and lakes from proposed pipelines could be harmful to fish species including salmonids. Previous toxicity research using other crude oils suggests that early life stages of fish would be particularly sensitive to accidental release of diluted bitumen. This research project addresses sub-l...

Principal investigator: Todd E. Gillis

Pacific: Vancouver Island West Coast 2014 20152016- 2017 Completed
Developing diagnostic tools (biomarkers) for fish exposed to pesticides

In Canada, as in elsewhere in the world, pesticides are widely used in agriculture. In the south-western region of Quebec, the rivers that flow through highly farmed areas carry pesticides to Lac Saint-Pierre. This ecosystem boasts great biodiversity, but for several years now the perch population has been in decline. In 2013, the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec implemented a project to explore the causes for this de...

Principal investigator: Monique Boily

Central Canada: Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Freshwater Drainage Basin 2014 20152016- 2017 Completed
Biological effects of silver nanoparticles on yellow perch

Increased use of silver nanoparticles in consumer products has resulted in silver nanoparticles entering the environment. At the concentrations predicted to occur in the environment, it is unlikely that there will be direct mortalities to fish as a result of exposure. However, both silver nanoparticles and silver ion are bioavailable and produce sublethal toxic responses at μg/L concentrations. The mechanisms of uptake and toxicity are largel...

Principal investigator: Chris Metcalfe

Central Canada: Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Freshwater Drainage Basin 2014 2015- 2016 Completed
Bioaccumulation and biological effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and priority emerging flame retardants in two marine mammal species from the St. Lawrence Estuary

Multiple point sources of contaminants, like effluents or runoffs, found along the coasts may represent toxicological hazards to marine organisms. Among these, persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals such as the halogenated flame retardants, used in a diversity of commercial products, have been determined at occasionally high levels in the Canadian environment and wildlife samples. Recently, a new generation of flame retardants have emerged ...

Principal investigator: Jonathan Verreault

Atlantic: Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence Estuary 2014 20152016- 2017 Completed
Assessment of the toxic effects on the blue mussel of conventional and unconventional crude oil after a spill under ice cover

The blue mussel is an important species in Canada, valued for its role in the aquaculture industry, its significance in the traditional diet of coastal populations, the part it plays in the marine ecosystem and its wide geographic range. An oil spill under ice cover in a coastal area could mean chronic pollution for mussels living on natural beds or in suspended culture sites, as long as the ice cover remains intact and limits the dispersion ...

Principal investigator: Richard Saint-Louis

National 2014 20152016- 2017 Completed
Assessing adverse effects of emerging chemical contaminants on fishes of commercial, aboriginal, and recreational value to Canadians

Human activities result in the discharge of a diversity of chemicals into aquatic ecosystems. While some of these substances have been well characterized with respect to their adverse effects on aquatic organisms including fishes, the biological impact of many chemicals remains unknown. Emerging contaminants, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products, nanoparticles, and brominated flame retardants are ubiquitously present in the en...

Principal investigator: Markus Hecke

National 2014 20152016- 2017 Completed
Microplastics in Canada’s Arctic: Assessing exposure, ingestion and effects in biota

Microplastics in the world’s oceans are increasingly seen as a threat to sea life, having been observed in industrialised coastal waters as well as in remote environments such as the Arctic. Past research conducted by the Vancouver Aquarium has found widespread microplastic contamination of British Columbia coastal waters and ready ingestion by two keystone zooplankton species, raising concerns about possible effects in marine food webs.

Principal investigator: Dr. Peter S. Ross

Arctic 2016 20172018- 2019 Ongoing
The environmental effects of diluted bitumen on marine phytoplankton, macroalgae, and intertidal vascular plants

Shipments of crude oil and other substances in Canada’s coastal waters are expected to increase significantly over the coming years given the proposed increases in tanker exports of diluted bitumen (dilbit) and crude oil to overseas markets. This also increases the potential for a marine spill and related risks to ocean life.

Priorities addressed: Oil and Gas

Principal investigator: Dr. Chris Kennedy, Simon Fraser University

Pacific Coast: Strait of Georgia, Southern Shelf, Northern Shelf 2017-2020 20182019 Ongoing
Evaluating effects of the Husky Energy pipeline spill on fishes in the North Saskatchewan River

In July 2016, a buried pipeline near Maidstone, Saskatchewan, ruptured and spilled approximately 250,000 litres of diluted bitumen (dilbit), with much of it ending up in the North Saskatchewan River. Since there is little known about the impacts of dilbit exposure on freshwater organisms ...

Priorities addressed: Oil and Gas

Principal investigator: Dr. Timothy Jardine, University of Saskatchewan

Boreal Plains 2017-2020 20182019 Ongoing
Enabling rapid evaluation of biological effects of oil spills on juvenile Pacific salmon in coastal habitats

As the volume of petroleum products transported by pipeline and ocean-going tankers increases, so does the risk of oil spills. Three recent spills in British Columbia involving different types of petroleum products highlight the need to learn more about how oil spills affect marine life in cold coastal waters.

Priorities addressed: Oil and Gas

Principal investigator: Dr. Caren Helbing, University of Victoria

Pacific Coast: Strait of Georgia, Southern Shelf, Northern Shelf 2017-2020 20182019 Ongoing
Examination of the toxicity of diluted bitumen on freshwater fish

Much remains to be understood about the toxicity of diluted bitumen to aquatic species. Bitumen is a black, viscous mixture of hydrocarbons that is commonly used as a binder in asphalt. Diluted bitumen (dilbit) is bitumen blended with one or more lighter petroleum products (diluent) to reduce its viscosity to make it easier to ...

Priorities addressed: Oil and Gas

Principal investigator: Dr. Patrice Couture, INRS-ETE (Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Centre Eau Terre Environnement)

National 2017-20 20182019 Ongoing
Responses of Wild Fish to a Controlled Spill of Diluted Bitumen in Enclosures Deployed in a Boreal Lake at the International Institute for Sustainable Development-Experimental Lake Area (IISD-ELA), Northwestern Ontario

Considerable research has examined the behaviour of oil spills in marine environments; however there is little information about the potential impacts of a spill on freshwater lakes, as well as the recovery rates in the aquatic environment. To address this knowledge gap, the National Contaminants Advisory Group (NCAG) is funding research into ...

Priorities addressed: Oil and Gas

Principal investigator: Dr. Valérie Langlois, Institut national de la recherche scientifique Centre - Eau Terre Environnement (QC)

Principal Co-investigator: Dr. Vince Palace, IISD - Experimental Lakes Area Inc. (MB)

National 2017-2021 201820192020 Ongoing
Effects and biomarkers of diluted bitumen exposure relevant to seawater transition in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

Pipelines carrying diluted bitumen (dilbit) from the Alberta oil sands cross watersheds that are critical habitat for many freshwater fish, and as the volume of dilbit being moved increases, so does the risk of a spill. Crude oils are highly toxic to aquatic organisms.

Priorities addressed: Oil and Gas

Principal investigator: Dr. Todd Gillis, University of Guelph

Atlantic: Gulf of St Lawrence 2017-2020 20182019 Ongoing
Modeling the Fate/Transport of Refined Oil Product and Assessment of Their Biological Effects

The proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline project is anticipated to increase tanker traffic and correspondingly the risk of oil spills in Vancouver Harbour and the Salish Sea—an intricate network of coastal waterways encompassing the Strait of Georgia ...

Priorities addressed: Oil and Gas

Principal investigator: Dr. Haibo Niu, Dalhousie University

Pacific Coast: Strait of Georgia,Southern Shelf 2017-2018 Ongoing
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