Invasive Species Compendium

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Abstract

Mercury concentrations in commercial fish species from Lake Winnipeg, 1971-2019.

Abstract

Concentrations of total mercury (THg) in the axial musculature of northern pike (Esox lucius), walleye (Sander vitreus), lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), and sauger (Sander canadensis) were analyzed from several regions of Lake Winnipeg and three main inflows, focusing on Mossy Bay in the North Basin of the lake. Length-standardized means (standard means) indicated THg concentrations in pike of 550 mm fork length (0.44 ppm) and walleye measuring 400 mm (0.38 ppm) from Mossy Bay were highest in 1971 and declined to 0.13 and 0.22 ppm, respectively, by 1974. Standard means of both these species have been similar since 2010 (walleye; approximately 0.11 ppm) and 2013 (pike; approximately 0.17 ppm), except for a significant increase to 0.15 ppm in walleye in 2019, potentially related to concurrent changes in trophic interactions with invasive fish and invertebrate species. Standard means of 300 mm long sauger (0.23-0.29 ppm) did not decline significantly between 1971 and 1974, and those of 350 mm long whitefish ranged from 0.006 to 0.028 ppm from 1983 to 2016 with no clear temporal trend. In concert with data from other areas of Lake Winnipeg and the three inflows for 2000-2019, these results indicate higher contemporary concentrations in the South Basin of the lake. This latitudinal gradient in fish THg is assumed to be a result of continuous mercury inputs from the Red and the Winnipeg River, whereas a former point source of industrial mercury in the Saskatchewan River is no longer relevant. According to human consumption limits based on tolerable daily intake calculations and current THg concentrations of fish from Mossy Bay, substantial quantities of whitefish, pike, and walleye fish can be safely eaten.