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  • Toxicity of petroleum hydrocarbons (PAHs) to fish early life stages


Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Environmental and Fisheries Sciences


Oil spill research
Toxicity of petroleum hydrocarbons (PAHs) to fish early life stages
The Ecotox Program is at the forefront, nationally and internationally, of targeted research to characterize the impacts of petroleum hydrocarbons on NOAA trust resources, particularly fish early life stages. This work is extending lessons learned from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, through the Cosco Busan spill in San Francisco Bay, to an array of current and intensive activities associated with the Deepwater Horizon natural resource damage assessment in the Gulf of Mexico. This research has been particularly influential in recent years (PNAS papers in 2011 and 2012), with major Deepwater papers forthcoming in 2012 and 2013. Funding has come from NOS/ORR, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, the Prince William Sound Regional Citizen's Advisory Council, the San Francisco Estuary Institute, and other sources. Ecotox is currently developing new tools to assess PAH exposure and toxicity in fish and other animals, with national applicability - e.g., in advance of anticipated oil drilling in the Arctic, beginning in the summer of 2012.

Data Sets

no data found

Research Themes

Habitats to support sustainable fisheries and recovered populations
Healthy oceans, coastal waters, and riverine habitats provide the foundation for aquatic resources used by a diversity of species and society. Protecting marine, estuarine and freshwater ecosystems that support these species relies on science to link habitat condition/processes and the biological effects of restoration actions. The NWFSC provides the habitat science behind many management actions taken by NOAA Fisheries and other natural resource agencies to protect and recover aquatic ecosystems and living marine resources. The NWFSC also maintains a longstanding focus on toxic chemical contaminants, as a foundation for regional and national research on pollution threats to fisheries and protected resources.

Research Foci

Characterize the interaction of human use and habitat distribution, quantity and quality
The ability to define the state of an ecosystem requires insight into the natural processes within habitats, and how anthropogenic interactions with these processes can alter ecosystems and marine organisms. A wide diversity of human activities -- land use and water withdrawals, industrialization and dredging, fishing practices and climate change (e.g., ocean acidification) -- directly and indirectly impact critical freshwater, estuarine, and marine habitats. To best manage west coast marine, estuarine and freshwater habitats in a sustainable fashion, it is necessary to map the spatial and temporal footprint of human impacts and review their potential biological impact on each species of interest. Measurement parameters will be developed to determine the full range of human impacts using spatial data and improved habitat classification.


early development of fish
early life stages of fish
marine fishes
Fishes found in the marine environment
oil spill-related contaminants
include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, alkanes, and dispersants


Carls, M.G., Holland, L., Larsen, M., Collier, T.K., Scholz, N.L., and Incardona, J.P. (2008). Fish embryos are damaged by dissolved PAHs, not oil particles. Aquatic Toxicology, 88:121-127.
Hatlen, K., Sloan, C.A., Burrows, D.G., Collier, T.K., Scholz, N.L., and Incardona, J.P. (2010). Natural sunlight and residual fuel oils are a lethal combination for fish embryos. Aquatic Toxicology, 99:56-64.
Hicken, C.L., Linbo, T.L., Baldwin, D.W., Willis, M.L., Myers, M.S., Holland, L., Larsen, M., Stekoll, M.S., Rice, S.D., Collier, T.K., Scholz, N.L., and Incardona, J.P. (2011). Sublethal exposure to crude oil during embryonic development alters cardiac morphology and reduces aerobic capacity in adult fish. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108:7086-7090.
Incardona, J.P., Carls, M.G., Day, H.L., Sloan, C.A., Bolton, J.L., Collier, T.K., and Scholz N.L. (2009). Cardiac arrhythmia is the primary response of embryonic Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) exposed to crude oil during weathering. Environmental Science and Technology, 43:201-207.
Incardona, J.P., Carls, M.G., Teraoka, H., Sloan, C.A., Collier, T.K., and Scholz, N.L. (2005). Aryl hydrocarbon receptor-independent toxicity of weathered crude oil during fish development. Environmental Health Perspectives, 113:1755-1762.
Incardona, J.P., Collier, T.K., and Scholz, N.L. (2004). Defects in cardiac function precede morphological abnormalities in fish embryos exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 196:191-205.
Incardona, J.P., Collier, T.K., and Scholz, N.L. (2011). Oil spills and fish health: exposing the heart of the matter. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, 21:3-4.
Incardona, J.P., Day, H.L., Collier, T.K., and Scholz, N.L. (2006). Developmental toxicity of 4-ring polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in zebrafish is differentially dependent on AH receptor isoforms and hepatic cytochrome P4501A metabolism. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 217:308-321.
Incardona, J.P., Linbo, T.L., and Scholz, N.L. (2011). Cardiac toxicity of 5-ring polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons is differentially dependent on the aryl hydrocarbon receptor 2 isoform during zebrafish development. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 257:242-249.
Incardona, J.P., Vines, C.A., and Scholz, N.L. (2012) Unexpectedly high rates of early life stage mortality among herring spawned in the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill impact zone in San Francisco Bay. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(2):E51-58.
Incardona, J.P., Vines, C.A., Linbo, T.L., Myers, M.S., Labenia, J.S., French, B.L., Olson, O.P., Sol, S.Y., Willis, M.L., Jarvis, M., Newman, J., Meeks, D. Menard, K., Sloan, C.A., Baldwin, D.H., Ylitalo, G.M., Collier, T.K., Cherr, G.N. and Scholz, N.L. (2012) Potent photoxicity of marine bunker oil to translucent herring embryos after prolonged weathering. Public Library of Science ONE, 7(2): e30116. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030116.


Danio rerio
Species Clupea pallasii
Pacific herring


John Incardona
Nat Scholz
Tiffany Linbo
Internal Collaborator