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Transgendered Fish: Something Fishy in the Water

Apparently intersex fish are making an appearance off the coast of California. Huh? Intersex fish? What are they? The short answer is that they are fish that have both male and female sex tissue.

And itís gender specific--the male fish are the ones that are developing ovarian tissue in their testes. These transgender fish as it were are showing up in the Potomac River as well, which flows from West Virginia to Washington D.C., and itís a safe bet to assume there are more of these fish to be found elsewhere.

Why is this happening? In a word (or in this case two): Endocrine disruptors.

Endocrine disruptors are low levels of synthetic (and to a lesser extent natural) estrogens that cause a disruption in the way healthy human (and wildlife) endocrine (hormonal) systems function if they are exposed to them via air or water.

This is serious business and in 1996 (yes, thatís 10 years ago), the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) declared endocrine disruption one of their top research priorities and established the Endocrine Disruptors Research Initiative.

Most synthetic estrogen is derived from birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy; however, herbicides, pesticides and pharmaceutical compounds also mimic estrogens. These estrogens end up in storm water, either from toilets flushing (if you get my drift) or stormwater and agricultural runoff.

Itís nearly impossible to pinpoint exact sources because all stormwater eventually drains into streams, rivers, and other water bodies. By the way, the local sewage or water treatment plant does not remove estrogenic compounds from the water as part of the treatment process.

Besides the potential gross out factor of knowing that this is occurring, the real question is whether these fish are safe to eat and just how much of the fish population is affected.

Just when you thought it was safe to eat fish three times a week.

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