Assessing chronic fish health: An application to a case of an acute exposure to chemically treated crude oil


  • Mauduit F.
  • Domenici P.
  • Farrell A. P.
  • Lacroix C.
  • Le Floch S.
  • Lemaire Patrick
  • Nicolas-Kopec A.
  • Whittington M.
  • Zambonino-Infante Jose-Luis
  • Claireaux Guy


  • Sole solea-solea
  • Physiological integrity
  • Biomarkers
  • Critical swimming speed
  • Dicentrarchus-labrax
  • Dispersant
  • Ecological performance
  • European sea bass
  • Fish
  • Growth
  • Herring clupea-pallasi
  • Hypoxia
  • Juvenile rainbow-trout
  • Oil spill
  • Petroleum-hydrocarbons
  • Swimming
  • Temperature
  • Trout oncorhynchus-mykiss
  • Water-soluble fraction
  • Wildlife health
  • ACL

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Human alteration of marine ecosystems is substantial and growing. Yet, no adequate methodology exists that provides reliable predictions of how environmental degradation will affect these ecosystems at a relevant level of biological organization. The primary objective of this study was to develop a methodology to evaluate a fish's capacity to face a well-established environmental challenge, an exposure to chemically dispersed oil, and characterize the long-term consequences. Therefore, we applied high-throughput, non-lethal challenge tests to assess hypoxia tolerance, temperature susceptibility and maximal swimming speed as proxies for a fish's functional integrity. These whole animal challenge tests were implemented before (1 month) and after (1 month) juvenile European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) had been acutely exposed (48 h) to a mixture containing 0.08 g L-1 of weathered Arabian light crude oil plus 4% dispersant (Corexit(C) EC9500A), a realistic exposure concentration during an oil spill. In addition, experimental populations were then transferred into semi-natural tidal mesocosm ponds and correlates of Darwinian fitness (growth and survival) were monitored over a period of 4 months. Our results revealed that fish acutely exposed to chemically dispersed oil remained impaired in terms of their hypoxia tolerance and swimming performance, but not in temperature susceptibility for 1 month post-exposure. Nevertheless, these functional impairments had no subsequent ecological consequences under mildly selective environmental conditions since growth and survival were not impacted during the mesocosm pond study. Furthermore, the earlier effects on fish performance were presumably temporary because re-testing the fish 10 months post-exposure revealed no significant residual effects on hypoxia tolerance, temperature susceptibility and maximal swimming speed. We propose that the functional proxies and correlates of Darwinian fitness used here provide a useful assessment tool for fish health in the marine environment.

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