TAMPA, Fla. — Heart medication, opioid painkillers and psychoactive drugs were among the most common pharmaceuticals found in redfish caught around the state for a study conducted by Florida International University.
Tampa Bay was one of two areas where fish showed the highest concentration of substances.
What You Need To Know
- Prescription drugs among the most common pharmaceuticals found in redfish caught around Florida, per FIU
- Tampa Bay was one of two areas where fish showed the highest concentration
- No serious threat: Amounts pharmaceuticals found in muscle were less than one percentage of what would be in one pill of these medications
- SEE THE STUDY: Pharmaceutical contaminants discovered in South Florida bonefish
“Alarming, but I kind of saw it coming, I guess,” said Capt. Dustin Pack, a member of Tampa Bay Waterkeeper’s board of directors.
According to FIU, a previous study of bonefish caught in Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys found pharmaceutical contaminants in all the fish sampled.
The university said the Redfish Pharmaceutical Contaminants study, funded by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, is the first assessment of a broad area of the state’s estuaries. Fish from estuaries in Apalachicola, Charlotte Harbor, Cedar Key, Pensacola, St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Florida Bay and Indian River Lagoon were also included in the study.
A summary of findings shows that of 113 fish sampled statewide, only seven tested negative for any pharmaceuticals. Researchers found an average of 2.1 drugs in each fish, with 17 unique medications detected. FIU PhD Candidate Nicholas Castillo said the drugs are changing behaviors in fish that are important for survival, like spawning, migration and avoiding predators.
“Salmon that have been exposed migrate more quickly and are eaten much more frequently than fish that are clean,” Castillo said. “So, it’s all these really important behaviors in survival that can ripple out from an individual fish that’s exposed to the entire population, and even the whole ecosystem.”
FIU’s summary points out that recreational fishery is a $13.9 billion business in Florida, another reason it said this issue is urgent.
Pack is a fly fishing guide, but last August he brought an FIU student out into Tampa Bay with the goal of catching 15 redfish for the study.
“We had three days, and it was in August, which is, like, the hardest time to catch fish because it’s just so freakin’ hot,” Pack said.
Still, he said they did better than expected. Pack and Castillo both said these results point to the need to update wastewater infrastructure to include technology to filter out pharmaceuticals.
“The pharmaceutical business is just growing and growing and growing,” said Pack. “It’s time that we update our water treatment facilities to be able to treat this type of stuff so it doesn’t end up in our estuary.”
As for what these results could mean for people, Castillo said that’s unclear. He said in addition to blood, the muscle tissue of fish was also tested, which is what would be eaten in a redfish fillet. According to Castillo, the amounts pharmaceuticals found in muscle were less than one percentage of what would be in one pill of these medications.
“It would be thousands of fillets to get one dose. So, there are no immediate risks, but there’s still a question about what happens over your entire lifetime,” he said.
Castillo said it’s an unanswered question that could be taken up by future researchers.