I’m a drinker, not a stoner. But I may have discovered why I always seem to get a high right after wolfing down a fresh Florida grouper sandwich. I always assumed it was the tartar sauce. Wrong. The fish in Florida waters are on drugs, so to speak.
According to Nick Castillo, one of a group of scientists at Florida International University and the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, dozens of pharmaceuticals have been discovered in fish’s blood and tissue. From valium and blood pressure medicine to antidepressant, and as many as 16 drugs found in a single fish, the quantity of medication found during a three-year study was mind-blowing. Castillo’s findings were recently reported on WPEC, CBS2 in West Palm Beach, Fla., and on iHeart radio across the country.
“We found pharmaceuticals everywhere, and there was no place where basically a fish could be unexposed to pharmaceuticals, and that was a surprise,” Castillo said.
He offered this example: Researchers analyzed 93 bonefish in South Florida, and every one of them had at least seven drugs in their systems. Indeed, the team found as many as 16 different prescriptions. Their conclusion: The fish are ingesting the drugs through human waste, which can contain leftover medicine that the human body didn’t process.
Dr. Jennifer Rehage, the lead researcher on this study, noted that wastewater treatment facilities in Florida (and virtually everywhere else) aren’t built to process pharmaceuticals. “We don’t have the right equipment, the right legislation, the right rules and treatment, and its exploding right in front of our faces. Our facilities are outdated,” she said.
At Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, Dr. James Sullivan said a real crisis is just around the corner. The study clearly documents that fish are ingesting drugs through human waste, which can contain medicine that wasn't processed in the body.
All reportedly admit that while their research efforts examine how this will affect all fish and their behavior, the scientists are just beginning to examine how eating these fish will affect humans.
If you’re thinking we don’t eat Florida bonefish anyway, as a catch-and-release species, remember that all the other eating fish are likely ingesting drugs that could even be altering their behavior. (Perhaps that’s why I’m doing a lot of fishing, just not catching.)
“Equally important, it could also be affecting their reproduction,” Castillo said.
Overall, fish on drugs may seem humorous on its face, but too much is being written these days about plastics pollution, nutrient pollution and harmful algal, and now pharmaceuticals are getting into our waterways. It’s a no-brainier to recognize that this increasing negative coverage in the media won’t help dealers sell boats.
Perhaps just below the surface is the real question: How much more can nature take before it hits a critical turning point, and those valuable ecosystems we need become exhausted? Clearly, as an industry, we must support a broader range of studies and necessary actions that can reverse the trend.