But change was afoot. In 1979, the Fisheries Research Board, which had been run mostly by university scientists, was dissolved; the Freshwater Institute and ELA were transferred to DFO. The move put department officials, not scientists, in charge and eventually had a large impact on the direction of the research, says Schindler.
DFO’s primary focus was on marine rather than freshwater issues, and ELA gradually lost its favored status. Raising funds for experiments became increasingly hard. “We’d always fall through the cracks,” Schindler recalls. Fed up, he left for the University of Alberta, Edmonton, in 1989.
Also at about that time, a few officials with the province of Ontario began to look askance at ELA’s practice of dosing the lakes with one pollutant after another. One example in particular sticks in the craw of Robert Hecky, who took over as director after Schindler. ELA scientists had been adding cadmium, a metal released from smelters and coal-fired power plants, to Lake 382 to see whether provincial regulations were tight enough to protect aquatic organisms. A few years after Schindler left, Ontario’s then–minister of environment halted that work, forbidding ELA scientists from adding any more cadmium. “They threatened to shut down the whole ELA if we didn’t stop,” recalls a still-outraged Hecky—despite the fact that power plants were emitting greater concentrations of cadmium on a regular basis. Hecky says he soon realized that plans to add polychlorinated biphenyls to the lakes weren’t going to fly, either.
The nadir came in 1996, when the federal government tried to shut ELA during a round of belt-tightening. Hecky resigned in protest. Scientific societies such as the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography rushed to ELA’s defense, and the lab was saved. ELA is secure now, assures Robert Lambe, DFO’s regional director in charge of the Freshwater Institute. “It’s not in the crosshairs.”
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