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:


The chemical results, together with other relevant information, are stored in a database, which is to be made available via the internet.

Some results have already been published in:

PHD THESIS: Monika D. Jürgens, 2015. Biomonitoring of wild fish to assess chemical pollution in English rivers – an application of a Fish Tissue Archive
Lancaster Environment Centre. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.1068.0165

Lu, Q., Jürgens, M. D., Johnson, A. C., Graf, C., Sweetman, A., Crosse, J. and Whitehead, P. (2017). Persistent Organic Pollutants in sediment and fish in the River Thames Catchment (UK). Science of the Total Environment 576: 78-84. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.10.067

Jürgens , M. D., Crosse, J., Hamilton, P. B., Johnson, A. C. and Jones, K. C. (2016). The long shadow of our chemical past - high DDT concentrations in fish near a former agrochemicals factory in England. Chemosphere 162: 333-344. DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2016.07.078

Jürgens, Monika D.; Chaemfa, Chakra; Hughes, David; Johnson, Andrew C.; Jones, Kevin C., 2015, PCB and organochlorine pesticide burden in eels in the lower Thames river (UK) . Chemosphere, 118, 103-111. DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2014.06.088

Jürgens, Monika D.; Johnson, Andrew C.; Jones, Kevin C.; Hughes, David; Lawlor, Alan J., 2013, The presence of EU priority substances mercury, hexachlorobenzene, hexachlorobutadiene and PBDEs in wild fish from four English rivers. Science of the Total Environment, 461–462, 441-452. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.05.007

Above: Surprisingly high residues of DDT (banned in 1981) were still found in fish from one site. A nearby former pesticide factory (closed 1982) is the likely cause.


  • Environment Agency
  • Lancaster University