Thursday, February 15, 2024

South Florida’s Fish Have a Drug Problem

Fans of seafood in South Florida may be getting more than they bargained for at the dinner table.

A study that began in 2018 with Florida International University researcher Jennifer Rehage and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT) partnering to examine the decline of bonefish in South Florida’s waters recently revealed a startling surprise. Bonefish in the waters of the Biscayne Bay and Florida Keys contained trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs and other contaminants in their blood and tissue.

“These findings are truly alarming,” Rehage said. “Pharmaceuticals are an invisible threat, unlike algal blooms or turbid waters. Yet these results tell us that they are a formidable threat to our fisheries, and highlight the pressing need to address our longstanding wastewater infrastructure issues.”

Out of 93 fish sampled, traces of pharmaceutical drugs ranging from blood pressure medicines, pain relievers, antidepressants and even prostate treatment medications were found in every one of them, with each fish averaging seven different drugs in their system. Researchers also found traces of drugs in bonefish prey like crabs, shrimp and other fish, suggesting the problem extends to other forms of sealife as well.

“These troubling findings underscore the urgent need for Florida to expand and modernize wastewater treatment facilities and sewage infrastructure statewide,” says BTT President and CEO Jim McDuffie, and that recent funding allocated for water quality improvements by Gov. Ron DeSantis are a step in the right direction, but that efforts should expedited.

According to the Food and Drug Administration website, the best way to dispose of drugs is to find a drug take back site near you and drop them off. Disturbingly, the FDA also has a “flush list” of medications that are acceptable to flush down the toilet if unused and that “there has been no sign of environmental effects caused by flushing recommended drugs.” This list includes narcotics such as Fentanyl patches and Vicodin.

While this problem isn’t as ostentatious as a three-eyed snapper on a dinner platter, it is a very real threat to ocean ecosystems and to us, as consumers of seafood in a state that has one of the largest fishing industries in the country. A difference can be made at home by responsibly disposing of pharmaceuticals at take back locations. A list of drug take back locations in Palm Beach County can be found here.

Tyler Childress
Tyler Childress
Tyler is the Web Editor and a contributing writer for Boca Raton magazine. He writes about food, entertainment and issues affecting South Florida. Send story tips to

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