Kelly R. Munkittrick
Canada Research Chair in Ecosystem Health Assessment
Tier 1 - 2001-01-01
University of New Brunswick
Natural Sciences and Engineering
Studying the fish populations of the Saint John River and the effects of industrial and urban effluents
Developing a reliable method for analyzing and monitoring water conditions and environmental change
Fish Under Stress
Fish that swim in Canada's rivers can come under a lot of stress. Stress for a fish arrives in the form of effluents from pulp and paper mills, sewers, agricultural run-off, as well as non-chemical stress associated with hydroelectric facilities, habitat damage and the introduction of exotic species. Proper water management techniques require reliable ways to analyze and evaluate the health of aquatic systems. A continuing study on the Saint John River is aimed at providing just that.
Assessing the environmental health of a waterway is a tricky business. The most common approach in North America is based on an analysis of the stressors in a system. Using this system, pollutants are identified and methods developed to try and reduce the level of stress exerted on a system. Attempts must be made to account for the interaction of various effluents and non-chemical stressors, but the information is not always available to be able to accurately do this.
Unraveling the environmental changes caused by pollution using the stressor-based approach is complex at best, and inaccurate at worst. Science demanded a better approach.
Fourteen years ago, Kelly Munkittrick took the aquatic assessment process in a whole new direction. He decided an effects-based approach was the best way to assess the cumulative effect of various pollutants. Effects-based assessment proceeds from a simple but logical point of view. "If you want to know about the health of a river ask the fish."
The approach is especially suited to rivers where fish populations are exposed to multiple forms of stress. Early studies conducted by Munkittrick were so convincing, the assessment method formed the basis of Federal Environmental Effects Monitoring regulations for pulp and paper mills. Discharges from some mills were shown to interfere with the reproductive systems of fish in a manner unpredicted and at concentrations of effluent below those thought to pose a threat to receiving waters.
Munkittrick has been a research scientist in the federal government for more than 10 years. In March of 1999, Environment Canada's National Water Research Institute wanted to expand these studies and developed an agreement that permitted him to join the faculty at the University of New Brunswick. At that time, he was to conduct a three-year study of the Saint John River. The goal was to access the environmental health of the river while refining the effects-based assessment method. The Canada Research Chair allows him to expand the reach of the study into the river's basin. It also provides a means of extending the project beyond the original three-year time frame.