Relationships between mercury concentration and food selectivity of many kinds of fishes in Minamata Bay

Keisuke Mori, National Institute for Minamata Disease, Department of Environmental Science and Epidemiology, Minamata, Japan and Gen Kanaya, National Institute for Environmental Studies, Center for Regional Environmental Research, Tsukuba City, Japan
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Serious injuries occurred in residents who consumed fish and shellfishes in Minamata Bay polluted by high-concentration methyl-mercury in the 1950s. Pollution has fallen to a safe level because of the pollution prevention project (dredging etc.) carried out from 1977 to 1990. From 2010 we have been researching the bioaccumulation of mercury in several fishes in Minamata Bay and surrounding areas. We selected several sampling points that showed different environmental conditions, species composition and food web patterns. For the determination of feeding types of 60 species fishes (600 samples) sampled by gill net, we measured mercury levels of each sample and directly checked food items in gut, and distinguished carnivore, omnivore, herbivore and detritivore. At this time, we introduced a stable isotope analysis for checking the food history and feeding habits of dominant fish. In about 300 individuals of 30 species of dominant fish selected from the 600 samples, we measured the stable nitrogen and carbon isotope ratios (δ15N, δ13C) of each sample.

Checking the food items in gut of fishes, more than 80% of fishes were carnivorous, and showed different selectivity of food items, such as fish, crustacean and so on. From the results of stable isotope ratios, benthic fish tended to show a higher ratio of δ13C. Usually benthic microalgae evidenced a higher ratio of δ13C than planktonic microalgae, and the ratio conservative through the food chain. In general, δ15N increases through the food chain with +3 to +4 ‰ enrichment per trophic step. In these data, carnivorous fishes of benthic and pelagic type showed medium and high ratios of δ15N. From comparing the stable isotope ratio to the mercury concentration of fishes, all of the high-mercury fishes belonged to benthic and carnivorous types. We consider the joint method of food web analysis and stable isotope analysis to be useful for understanding the mechanism of mercury bioaccumulation through the food web