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Evaluating the impact of diluted bitumen exposure on early life stages of coho salmon


The transport of diluted bitumen (dilbit) from the Alberta oil sands traverses the continent and transects watersheds that represent important habitat for many freshwater fish. Under the Government of Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan initiative to strengthen our understanding of how oil products behave in water, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been conducting research and working with partners to expand our ability to predict effects and protect important marine species such as Pacific Salmon. Pacific salmon are of considerable socioeconomic value to all Canadians, including Indigenous Peoples. However, some impacts of a potential oil transfer leak or failure are not well understood, given knowledge gaps on the consequences of dilbit exposure to early life stages of salmon. For instance, there is uncertainty regarding the extent to which biotic (e.g. species) and abiotic (e.g. temperature) factors influence adverse outcomes of dilbit exposure, including sublethal effects (e.g. endocrine disruption).

This new project, supported under Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan, will build on key findings from previously funded projects to address these knowledge gaps in early life stages of Pacific salmon exposed to environmentally relevant concentrations of dilbit. Past funded work on early life stage sockeye and Atlantic salmon has begun to address these knowledge gaps by quantifying lethal and sub-lethal effects of dilbit exposure that align with specific challenges of anadromous fish (i.e. migration and smoltification).This new research will provide necessary data on species sensitivities and recoveries, temperature-dependent toxicity, and ecologically-relevant physiological effects that will be applicable to oil spill modeling, and will be specifically relevant for risk assessments and spill response activities (ex. biological sampling and spill remediation) in salmon-bearing Canadian waterways.

Program Name

Oceans Protection Plan - Fate, Behaviour and Effects


2020 - 2022


Pacific: Fraser River

Principal Investigator(s)

Dr. Todd Gillis
Associate Professor, Department of Integrative Biology
University of Guelph

Dr. Sarah Alderman
Adjunct Professor, Department of Integrative Biology
University of Guelph

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