University of Wisconsin–Madison

Global Health Tuesday: Polluted Fish and Cycles of Poverty

2016 GHI Seed Grant Recipient Peter McIntyre discusses his project on tracing the global scope of mercury contamination of inland subsistence fisheries, ecological patterns, health threats and source tracking.

This project addresses an unrecognized facet of the cycle of poverty: contamination of food fish with neurotoxins. Mercury from global and local sources biomagnifies in fish, and even low dietary levels can impair human cognitive development. The research has analyzed archived tissues from four continents, yielding an overall assessment of the threat posed to hundreds of millions of people living in poverty.

These efforts have set the stage for a major initiative to document and publicize the safety of eating wild-caught freshwater fish. With such awareness, cognitive impairment of people who depend on subsistence fisheries may be reduced, increasing their odds of rising out of poverty.

Pete McIntyre is an Associate Professor of Integrative Biology in the UW-Madison Center for Limnology. He studies the impacts of fisheries and other stressors on river and lake ecosystems around the world, and the dependence of human populations on aquatic ecosystem health.