Effects of cumulative stress on fish health near freshwater outlet sluices into the sea: A case study (1988–2005) with evidence for a contributing role of chemical contaminants


  • A Dick Vethaak,

    Corresponding author
    1. Deltares, Marine and Coastal Systems, PO Box 177, 2600 MH, Delft, The Netherlands
    2. Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM); VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    • Deltares, Marine and Coastal Systems, PO Box 177, 2600 MH, Delft, The Netherlands.
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  • Johan G Jol,

    1. Institute of Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies (IMARES), Yerseke, The Netherlands
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  • Concepción Martínez-Gómez

    1. Instituto Español de Oceanografía (IEO), Oceanographic Centre of Murcia, San Pedro del Pinatar (Murcia), Spain
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Epizootic skin diseases in euryhaline flounder (Platichthys flesus) in the Dutch Wadden Sea were first reported in 1988. Particularly high prevalences of skin ulcers (up to one-third of individual fish being affected) were encountered in the vicinity of sluices draining freshwater from IJsselmeer Lake, in contrast with much lower levels in the freshwater bodies behind the sluices and open sea areas (<2%). It was proposed that salinity stress, high bacterial loads, nutritional deficiencies, and obstruction to fish migration by the sluices could all be involved in disease causation. Results of follow-up surveys at these outlet sluices from 1994 to 2005 further substantiate our preliminary findings. The follow-up data also show a general reduction in disease and improved condition factor during this period, which can be explained by improved habitat conditions for the flounder, partly due to effective sluice gate management. Furthermore, statistical correlations (p < 0.05) were demonstrated between flounder ulcer occurrence and chemical contaminant concentrations in liver (Hg, Cd, Cu, Zn) and bile (the metabolite 1-OH pyrene as an indicator of chronic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposure), and histological liver lesions generally indicative of contaminant exposure (hydropic vacuolization of biliary duct epithelial cells). The findings suggest that a combination of osmotic and contaminant-induced stress also contributed to the observed disease patterns. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2011;7:445–458. © 2011 SETAC