Webinar: Effects of Toxic Substances on Great Lakes Fish Health, and What it Means for the Health and Wellbeing of People and their Communities

Two fishers holding two large Walleye
This webinar originally aired on Thursday, October 14, 2021.  The webinar recording and presentations are available below.

The Toxics-Free Great Lakes Binational Network, Blue Fish Canada, and the Fish Health Network hosted a binational webinar on the impacts of toxic substances on the health of fish. Learn about past and emerging toxic substances in the Great Lakes basin, how fish health is being impacted, and what this means for human health, indigenous cultures, and the social and economic sustainability of shoreline communities.

Economically, we know recreational fishing in the Great Lakes basin generates approximately $8 billion Canadian to Great Lakes communities and that Great Lakes fish represent one of the most valuable commercial fisheries in the world. We do not know the extent to which Indigenous communities depend on the Great Lakes fish for food, social, and ceremonial purposes, and to earn a moderate livelihood. Nor do we know the number and value of fish consumed each year by anglers. Information about fish health impacts of toxic substances and pollutants, and how this translates into fish consumption advisories are also problematic, as is the lack of available data on the health impacts on people and other animals that consume Great Lakes fish.

We will review the legacy and emerging toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basin, impacts of microplastics, and how these toxic substances and other pollutants are impacting the health of fish. The combination of ongoing threats from legacy toxic chemicals and threats from newer chemicals of emerging concern (CECs) means that we need some fundamental changes in our approach to addressing toxic substances. This webinar is the first in a series and will be used to secure your input for the planning of subsequent webinars.

We will provide a brief overview of the state of knowledge on levels and effects of toxic substances in Great Lakes fish, including recent research on threats from CECs such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). We will also discuss the impacts on the health of people who consume fish, and on the cultural, social and economic well-being of their communities. In particular, what does it mean for vulnerable communities as well as Indigenous communities?

The webinar will also discuss the role and adequacy of fish consumption advisories and other tools used across the Great Lakes basin to inform the public on toxic substances found in fish and approaches to reduce exposures.

Finally, to assist in planning for future webinars, we will conclude by asking listeners for their input on further work needed by the federal, state, provincial and other governments in the Great Lakes to address the problems of toxic substances and risks to fish and human health.


John Jackson, Canadian co-chair, Toxics-Free Great Lakes Binational NetworkAddressing Toxics in the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Basin 
Michael Murray, U.S. Co-Chair, Toxics-Free Great Lakes Binational Network Toxic Chemicals and Fish in the Great Lakes
Lawrence Gunther, Chair, Blue Fish CanadaGreat Lakes Fish Health Impacts on People

The webinar is supported by Canadian Environmental Law Association’s Healthy Great Lakes Program and Blue Fish Canada.