Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chesapeake Bay's Sex Mystery

Over that decade, wildlife biologists have probed the bay's tributaries, slicing open fish for more necropsies than anyone can count. And one thing is clear: They still aren't sure why between 50 and 100 percent of bass in various locations are gender-bending, switching from male to something called intersex.

Biologists say studies are falling short because of a lack of data on the type and quantity of pesticides that run into the bay from farms. This complaint, along with other factors, prompted Democrats in the Maryland House and Senate to sponsor two bills in the current legislative session that would for the first time require growers to record their use of insecticides and herbicides and submit it to the state.

The pesticide-reporting rule would create a treasure trove of data that scientists could draw from for studies on human and animal health, supporters say. Scientists could use it to focus research on chemical "hot spots," the exact moment high concentrations of pesticides hit waters where vulnerable young fish are growing, said Vicki Blazer, a biologist who studies bass for the U.S. Geological Survey.
This is an interesting conjunction.  While there is an issue with intersex fish (particularly bass) as far as I'm aware, it's never been linked to any specific pesticides in Maryland, and it's distribution would suggest it's more likely due to compounds in sewage or septic systems.  So, if you get a more complete list of where ag pesticides are used, will it solve the mystery of fish intersex?  I doubt it.

At the same time, a good accounting for pesticide usage would be useful, and I have been among scientists who have recommended adopting this law.  Still, though, it does impose costs in time and trouble on farmers and the government
But opponents say the bills have major drawbacks. They would create a financial burden for farmers, who would be forced to purchase updated equipment such as Global Positioning System devices to log pesticide applications, said Valerie Connelly, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau.

Officials at the Maryland Department of Agriculture weighed in, saying it would need $1.5 million a year to form a new unit of employees to input data provided by farmers and maintain computers to process it.
That sounds high to me.  So what will they do if/when it turns out to be women's birth control pills that are causing intersex fish?  Ban BC pills in the Bay drainage?  Yeah, that'll happen.

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