Mercury (Hg) contamination in sport fish is a global problem. In freshwater systems, food web structure, sport fish sex, size, diet and growth rates influence Hg bioaccumulation. Fish stocking is a common management practice worldwide that can introduce external energy and contaminants into freshwater systems. Thus, stocking can alter many of the factors that influence Hg concentrations in sport fish. Here we evaluated the influence of external subsidies, in the form of hatchery-raised rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss on walleye Sander vitreus diet, growth and Hg concentrations in two freshwater systems. Stocking differentially influenced male and female walleye diets and growth, producing a counterintuitive size-contamination relationship. Modeling indicated that walleye growth rate and diet were important explanatory variables when predicting Hg concentrations. Thus, hatchery contributions to freshwater systems in the form of energy and contaminants can influence diet, growth and Hg concentrations in sport fish. Given the extensive scale of fish stocking, and the known health risks associated with Hg contamination, this represents a significant issue for managers monitoring and manipulating freshwater food web structures, and policy makers attempting to develop fish consumption advisories to protect human health in stocked systems.
Additional publication details
The influence of external subsidies on diet, growth and Hg concentrations of freshwater sport fish: implications for management and fish consumption advisories
Colorado Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit