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ODFW and Oregon State University scientists tested a random sample of commercially-available cured eggs and found that some juvenile fish died after ingesting some brands. Specific mortality levels varied among products and ranged from 0 to 30 percent.
In a second round of studies at OSU, researchers identified sodium sulfite as the ingredient causing the fish to die.
"We've already talked with several manufacturers and we're encouraged by their commitment to solving this problem," said Bruce McIntosh, ODFW deputy administrator of inland fisheries.
"Our emphasis will be on informing anglers, guides and other manufacturers about the risks sulfites pose to juvenile fish."
While the recent research showed some cured eggs killed juvenile fish, ODFW researchers cannot predict whether this has a significant effect on the overall health of salmon and steelhead populations.
"We cannot extrapolate the data from this study to predict what impact, if any, the ingestion of cured eggs by juvenile fish has on the final size of the adult population," said Shaun Clements, ODFW researcher.
Anglers often cure salmon eggs to preserve them and to add fish-attracting scents. Some anglers use their own egg cure recipes, while many others use commercially available products. While salmon eggs have been considered safe and popular bait for decades, its only been since the 1980s that sulfites have been a common ingredient in egg cures.
The egg cure issue was brought to the attention of ODFW in April 2008 and testing began the following month.
Researchers selected random samples from commercially-available eggs to conduct the research. ODFW has coordinated with the product manufacturers, who have cooperated throughout the study and supplied ingredient lists to the researchers.
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