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Knowing the origin of fecal matter would help reduce fishing bans

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Mar26,2024


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For the shellfish industry, high levels of fecal matter detected in harvesting areas can result in sometimes lengthy and costly closures. (Archive photo)


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British Columbia researchers are studying feces using molecular testing to identify what type of droppings lead to shellfish fishing bans.

For this industry, a high level of fecal matter detected in harvesting areas can lead to sometimes lengthy and costly closures.

The tests generally used to measure feces do not know which animal it comes from or whether it is of human origin.

A funded program by Genome BC, led by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the British Columbia Center for Disease Control (BCCDC), could be a game-changer.

We test the DNA present in the bacteria to identify the potential source, explains Natalie Prystajecky, co-lead of the program, associate clinical professor at UBC and head of the environmental microbiology program at the BCCDC public health laboratory.

According to the researcher, the tests cannot precisely determine the source, but they point researchers in the right direction.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">In general, the type of fecal pollution that concerns us most is human fecal matter, because the bacteria and viruses it can contain can make humans sick, she says.

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She adds that a higher presence of fecal matter could be tolerated in water if we know that those -these do not come from humans.

If we can pinpoint the source by saying “yes, it's not human, it's of avian origin”, that would certainly help us a lot to manage contamination, recognizes Nico Prins , Executive Director of the British Columbia Shellfish Growers Association (BCSGA).

If birds or sea lions are the source of the feces, it will then be possible to force them not to congregate near fishing areas. If it is feces from cattle that live upstream, strategies could be put in place to reduce the problem.

When it comes to human excrement, it can be more difficult to regulate, according to Natalie Prystajecky. But if it comes from a source such as a leaking septic tank or an outdoor pit toilet near the seaside, it can be remedied by making repairs or relocating the problematic installation.

Tests will take place as part of the program. They will affect part of the east coast of Vancouver Island, between Deep Bay and Comox. According to Nico Prins, this is where British Columbia's production of half-shell oysters is concentrated.

With information from Rafferty Baker

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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