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Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program

Contact Information

For further information on the Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program, please contact:

Elizabeth Murphy (murphy.elizabeth@epa.gov)
Environmental Scientist
EPA Great Lakes National Program Office
(312) 353-4227 or 1-800-621-8431 x34227

Access the Data

Data produced by the GLFMSP can be obtained through the Great Lakes Environmental Database Query System or through the University of Illinois Extension website Exit EPA Disclaimer

You can also contact the program manager, Elizabeth Murphy, for information regarding the GLFMSP and/or supporting data.

Peer reviewed journal articles published using GLFMSP data can also be found on the Reports & Links page.


The Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program (GLFMSP) collects fish from each Great Lake annually and analyzes them for contaminants that bioaccumulate to assess trends in the open waters of the lakes. The GLFMSP consists of two separate programs, the Open Lakes Trend Monitoring Program and the Emerging Chemical Surveillance Program. The Sport Fish Fillet Monitoring Program was eliminated in 2008.

Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program Collection Sites

Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program Collection Sites (click to enlarge)

Open Lakes Trend Monitoring Program — This program, established in the late 1970s, monitors contaminant trends in whole fish in open waters of the Great Lakes and evaluates the effect of toxics on fish and fish consuming wildlife.

Emerging Chemical Surveillance Program — This program is directed at screening for emerging chemicals in fish tissue according to their persistent, bioaccumulative, and/or toxic chemical properties. Information is used to help identify and guide State and Federal monitoring programs and to inform the Open Lakes Trend Monitoring Program on the incorporation of contaminants of concern into the routine analyte list.

Sport Fish Fillet Monitoring Program — This program was directed at monitoring potential human exposure to contaminants through consumption of popular sport fish species in the Great Lakes Basin.

What is the GLFMSP Important?

It is important to monitor bioaccumulative contaminants in Great Lakes Fish because this allows scientist to track environmental trends of contaminant levels in order to determine the ecological health of the Great Lakes. Additionally, the effectiveness of pollution remediation and potential risks to fish-consuming wildlife can be assessed using this important information.

What is Bioaccumulation and Biomagnification?

Certain human-made organic chemicals present in the Great Lakes biologically accumulate, or bioaccumulate, in resident organisms. Even though these chemicals may be present in the water in only very low concentrations, organisms such as phytoplankton bioaccumulate these toxic chemicals at much higher concentrations than are found in the water. As phytoplankton are eaten by zooplankton and small fish, the toxic chemicals are further concentrated in the bodies of zooplankton and small fish. Bioaccumulation occurs at each step of the food chain, resulting in top predators, such as lake trout and walleye, amassing high concentrations of contaminants. This process of increasing concentration of contaminants through the food chain is known as biomagnification.

Why is the GLFMSP Unique?

The GLFMSP is unique because it is a long term monitoring program that has been monitoring contaminants in fish in the same locations, at the same time of year, since the 1970s. Additionally, the GLFMSP has maintained a frozen tissue archive from each of these collections since the start of the program.

What are some of the Contaminants that the GLFMSP analyzes for?

What are PCBs?

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are mixtures of up to 209 individual chlorinated compounds (known as congeners). There are no known natural sources of PCBs. The manufacturing of PCBs was stopped in the U.S. in 1977 because of evidence that they build up in the environment and can cause harmful health effects. Products made before 1977 that may contain PCBs include old fluorescent lighting fixtures and electrical devices containing PCB capacitors, and old microscope and hydraulic oils.

What is DDT?

Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) is a pesticide once widely used to control insects in agriculture and insects that carry diseases such as malaria. Its use in the U.S. was banned in 1972 because of damage to wildlife, but is still used in some countries.

What is Chlordane?

Chlordane is a manufactured chemical that was used as a pesticide in the United States from 1948 to 1988. Chlordane is not a single chemical, but is actually a mixture of pure chlordane mixed with many related chemicals. Chlordane does not occur naturally in the environment. Because of concern about damage to the environment and harm to human health, the EPA banned all uses of chlordane in 1983 except to control termites. In 1988, EPA banned all uses.

What is Dieldrin?

Dieldrin is a pesticide that was once used widely for crops like corn and cotton. Because of concerns about damage to the environment and potentially to human health, EPA banned all uses of dieldrin in 1974, except to control termites. In 1987, EPA banned all uses of dieldrin. This substance does not occur naturally in the environment.

What is Mercury?

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal which has several forms. Metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas. Mercury combines with other elements, such as chlorine, sulfur, or oxygen, to form inorganic mercury compounds or "salts," which are usually white powders or crystals. Mercury also combines with carbon to make organic mercury compounds. The most common compound, methylmercury, is produced mainly by microscopic organisms in the water and soil, which convert mercury to this more toxic form of methylmercury. More mercury in the environment can increase the amounts of methylmercury that these small organisms make. Methylmercury builds up in the tissues of fish. Larger and older fish tend to have the highest levels of mercury.

What are PBDEs?

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are flame-retardant chemicals that are added to plastics and foam products to make them difficult to burn. There are different kinds of PBDEs; some have only a few bromine atoms attached, while some have as many as ten bromine atoms attached to the central molecule.

PBDEs exist as mixtures of similar chemicals called congeners. Because they are mixed into plastics and foams rather than bound to them, PBDEs can leave the products that contain them and enter the environment.

More about the GLFMSP

The GLFMSP supports the commitment to identify and assess the occurrences, sources, transport and impacts of chemicals of mutual concern, including spatial and temporal trends in aquatic biota of the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA).

Contaminant levels in Lake Trout and Walleye are dependant on complex biological and physiochemical interactions both within and outside of the Great Lakes basin as these apex predators integrate contaminant inputs from water, air, sediment, and their food sources. A changing climate and associated changes to precipitation and wind currents will alter the influx of contaminants from sources outside of the basin and may alter food webs and the contaminant transfer through them. Aquatic invasive species also alter food webs and change energy and contaminant dynamics in the lakes. They also may introduce new pathways by which sediment contaminant pools could be mobilized and transferred to fish. Many new contaminants of concern are components of consumer products, personal care products, or pharmaceuticals, as a result, wastewater treatment effluents are an important source of contamination which is growing along with the human population of the basin.

Who is analyzing the data?

Chemical analysis for the GLFMSP is currently being conducted through a cooperative agreement with Clarkson University. Clarkson University was selected through the competitive award process in 2010 to conduct 5 consecutive years of chemical analysis and data interpretation for the GLFMSP.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Thomas M . Holsen Exit EPA Disclaimer


Dr. Philip Hopke Exit EPA Disclaimer
Dr. Bernard Crimmins (bcrimmin@clarkson.edu)
Dr. James Pagano (pagano@oswego.edu or 315.312.2810)
Dr. Michael Milligan Exit EPA Disclaimer

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