Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice is promising to review the pollution monitoring system for the Athabasca River in light of news that Alberta oilsands pollutants are damaging fish.


Ecologist Kevin Timoney points to a tumor on a lingcod fish that was caught in Lake Athabasca, near Fort Chipewyan, during a press conference in Edmonton on Thursday. ((Jason Franson/Canadian Press))

Prentice made the pledge in an interview Friday.

On Thursday, University of Alberta ecologist David Schindler and First Nations representatives showed examples of fish with tumours, deformities and signs of disease or infection that had been collected from the lower Athabasca River, Athabasca Delta and Lake Athabasca, downstream from the oilsands.

The same day, they sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging for an independent study on the health effects of the oilsands on the fish and people in northern Alberta.

Prentice, who met with Schindler this week, said the photos of the fish he saw were disturbing. 

He said serious concerns are being raised about oilsands pollution going into the river and he wants to get to the bottom of them.

"Governments collectively have been doing their monitoring with industry for many years. But what Dr. Schindler really raises is the question of whether that monitoring system is appropriate, whether it is well designed or not," Prentice said.

"I intend to get to the bottom of that and make sure that we have a first-class, state-of-the-art monitoring system in place."

Prentice said he will find independent scientists to sit down with Schindler. He wants them to go through all the studies and the research to see what changes need to be made.