Chesapeake Outdoors by C.D. Dollar

 Vol. 9, No. 51
December 20 -26, 2001 
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Toxic Fish in Sick Rivers

Just as the Maryland Department of the Environment changed its recommendations to recreational anglers who regularly eat their catch, I fried up a few fat cold-water white perch taken from waters close to those named in the report.

Department of the Environment now says that 13 species of fish — including white perch, black crappie and three kinds of catfish — recreationally caught in 14 tidal Bay tributaries throughout the state contain toxic contaminants. The contaminants are chiefly PCBs, pesticides and, to a lesser extent, mercury.

“People who regularly eat fish, children and women who are or may become pregnant are most susceptible to contaminants that can build up in fish over time,” they warned.

The December 13 advisory concerning eating fish from Maryland waters came in the wake of Environmental Protection Agency changes to its recommended daily consumption estimates, combined with new sampling data and better testing methods. Advisories had been previously issued in 1999 and 1987. When you boil this one down, the only thing that has changed is the amount of fish safe to consume.

It’s not news that there are many sick rivers in the Bay watershed. I bet if you threw a dart at a Bay watershed map, chances are you’d hit a waterway that either is impaired or is subject to some type of health advisory. That is a sad fact. Department of the Environment did what it had to to protect public health; it’s what we pay and trust them to do.

Excepted from the advisories are “commercially caught fish or crabs” and “fish or crabs caught in the [main stem of] Chesapeake Bay.” That’s curious to say the least.

Rockfish caught in lower Potomac made the list. Are stripers caught off Point Lookout or at the Middle Grounds toxin free? Hardly, which speaks volumes about both the limited scope of the study and the problem of toxics in the Bay.

I called a couple friends who run outdoors shops to see what impact, if any, the advisory had on the recreational fishing community. They said it was basically a non-issue. Deer and ducks were the hot topics.

But a contact in the seafood industry said the advisory would have an impact. When Gov. Parris Glendening clipped watermen’s crabbing season after October, many went hook-and-line fishing for rockfish and white perch, pushing the market price down for perch to levels so low that catching them wasn’t worth the effort. The advisory might push prices further down for many species.

Still, no need to push the panic button. Nor will this stop me from eating Bay seafood. I like the taste of fish too much. I’ll be smarter about what I eat, but I feel the risks aren’t enough to outweigh the positive benefits fish provide.

Besides, if I gave up fish I might as well live in Kansas. Or Northern Virginia.

Fish Are Biting
Still lots of big ocean stripers around Bay Bridge Tunnel as well as a few in Potomac waters. In Maryland, it’s strictly catch and release for stripers. Good numbers of chain pickerel in Western Shore rivers are taking spinnerbaits, Fin-S-Fish, spoons and flies like bend-back style streamers and Clousers.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly