Health of fish will be used to determine condition of Sydney tar ponds

Mummichog will play pivotal role, says professor

By Chris Shannon
Cape Breton Post
Tues., June 12, 2007

SYDNEY - Time will tell if the cleanup of the tar ponds is successful in removing toxins from Muggah Creek and a biology professor is hopeful the mummichog fish will play a pivotal role in determining the degree to which aquatic life can survive in the area.

The mummichog, a silver-andblack killifish of saltwater marshes along the Atlantic coast, is the main source of research for Martha Jones and her team of students looking at how the tar ponds has affected varying species of fish, eels and crab.

"They’re not deformed overall in terms of their bodies," Jones said. "They show fin deformities and fin erosions but they do appear to be complete fish and they actually have nice colouration during the spawning season and the females do bear eggs."

The information gathered in a lab at Cape Breton University will be a bio-indicator for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, which is overseeing the $400-million cleanup of one of the country’s worst toxic waste sites created from a century of steelmaking.

Up until now Jones and her team have been collecting specimens from the tar ponds once a month. The process of tagging fish could begin as early as this week. The invasive green crab, which first appeared in Cape Breton in the Bras d’Or Lakes more than a decade ago, has found its way into estuaries such as the tar ponds and due to its bountiful number could be included in the tagging process as well, she noted.

Jones is comparing findings from the tar ponds with a handful of other estuaries in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, looking at the health of the different ecosystems by using minnow traps and seines to see what is and isn’t present, parasites and the health of fish and their growth rates.

"Fish are a better dipstick (than other marine life) I guess, in terms of how well is the ecosystem improving."