Fish Consumption Reviews Are There For A Reason

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After reading my recent column on Nevada Ice Fishing Opportunities, a reader wrote to express concern about a fish consumption advisory at Comins Reservoir, one of the popular fishing destinations I have visited. highlighted in the chronicle.

“I just wanted to remind you of the mercury in Comins from old mine leaches,” he wrote. “I don’t intend to be a downer, but caution may be advised.”

A closer look shows that Comins is just one of many waters in the state with fish consumption advisories. A list can be found online at ndow.org and includes recommendations for consumption of the different species that may be taken from these waters.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “a consumer advisory is a recommendation to limit or avoid eating certain species of fish or shellfish caught in specific water bodies or types of water because of contamination “.

While the presence of mercury certainly calls for caution, this is not the only reason that a consumption advisory could be issued for a particular body of water. Other pollutants, such as chemicals, bacteria, or even certain algae blooms could also cause health authorities to recommend limits or even shut off waters in extreme cases.

The purpose of these advisories is to help people make informed decisions about where to fish or collect shellfish, says the EPA. Such notices may be issued by agencies at the federal, state, territorial or tribal level and may apply to the general public or to specific groups of people who may be considered at risk. These groups include people who eat a lot of fish, elderly men and women, pregnant women, nursing mothers and children.

Mercury is a neurotoxin, so it has the potential to damage nerve tissue if its levels are high enough. The risk of consuming mercury while eating fish can include damage to an unborn baby or to the development of the nervous system of a young child, notes the EPA, which also says that “almost all fish and shellfish contain traces of of mercury no matter what body of water they come from. “

The irony is that fish are an important part of a healthy diet. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, “eating fish during pregnancy is recommended because moderate scientific evidence shows that it can help your baby’s cognitive development” and “strong evidence shows that eating fish , as part of a healthy diet, may benefit health.

So where are we now?

Perhaps an understanding of the nature of mercury in the natural food chain will help answer this question. Mercury is a natural element, but human activities have contributed to its distribution in the atmosphere.

When mercury is deposited in waterways, it enters the food chain where certain bacteria transform it into methylmercury, which then accumulates in the tissues of fish. The problem is, methylmercury doesn’t go away. It is transported up the food chain from fish to fish when one fish eats another.

This is why the strictest consumption recommendations are associated with large apex predators, the fish at the top of the food chain. In Lake Comins, the main predators are largemouth bass and northern pike.

On the other hand, fish that spend the least time in a particular water and are lower in the food chain will generally have the lowest concentration of mercury. Stocked rainbow trout fall into this category.

The FDA says you don’t have to stop eating fish altogether, but offers portion size recommendations and a list of the best fish choices for consumption. You can find them at www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His column “In the Outdoors” is not affiliated with or endorsed by NDOW. All the opinions he expresses in his column are his. Find him on Facebook at @dougwritesoutdoors. He can be reached at [email protected]


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