Scientific challenge: 

Our ability to assess what is happening in the environment is often hampered by a lack of information about past conditions. Storing samples for the future allows today's samples to be analysed in the context of tomorrow's methods and questions. This will enable us to determine temporal and spatial trends.

Project overview: 

Scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Lancaster Environment Centre are working with the Environment Agency to develop a National Fish Tissue Archive for the UK. The main purpose of the archive is to enable chemical contamination in rivers to be assessed.

Why fish?

  • Fish integrate what is present in the water/food web. This is potentially more revealing than occasional water samples.
  • Uptake is a prerequisite for potential effects on wildlife. The concentration of a chemical in tissue is a more meaningful measure of exposure than water concentration.
  • The Environment Agency already catches fish on an annual basis at many river sites in order to monitor their species, numbers, and sizes. The Agency is therefore an ideal partner allowing sample collection with little additional effort.

Why rivers?

  • Many of the chemicals that we use on a daily basis are discharged into rivers (via sewage works).
  • The size of our rivers is relatively small by international comparison, and the density of our population is high – giving little dilution per head of population.


Fish collected in the field by the Environment Agency are frozen on site. They are then either stored whole or homogenized in their frozen state and divided into sub-samples back in the laboratory.


All samples are stored at -80°C as a resource for retrospective monitoring. A number of homogenized sub-samples have already been analysed and their chemical results, together with other relevant information, are stored in a database.

Watch a video with Dr Monika Jürgens explaining more about the National Fish Tissue Archive:

Explore a map of the sampling sites:


  • Environment Agency
  • Lancaster University