Volume XI, Issue 23 ~ June 5-11, 2003

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Burton on the Bay | Chesapeake Outdoors | Sky Watch | Tidelog
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Chesapeake Outdoors by C. D. Dollar

At the End of the Food Chain

When I fry up a white perch or rockfish fillet, I never think of any potential nasty chemicals embedded in its flesh. But a recent report from National Wildlife Federation, which tells of potentially high and widespread levels of mercury in rain that can end up in some fish that I eat, might make me think twice. At the very least, it now adds to my ever-growing list of reasons to believe we’ve mangled this planet beyond repair.

Even if just some of the federation’s findings are accurate, any reasonable person should wonder how on earth we created such a mess and how can we get out of it. That discussion would take too long here.

For decades, we’ve known that mercury poisons human reproductive and neurological systems, with fetuses, infants, children and women of childbearing age being most at risk. (Yet the Lewis and Clark expedition, which is celebrating its bicentennial next year, used mercury for medicinal purposes to counter effects of ‘poor relations’ between members of their party and indigenous women.)

Some of the scarier news cited in the report is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control study that found about eight percent of women of childbearing age had mercury levels exceeding U.S. EPA safety standards. Extrapolated, this means 320,000 babies are born each year at risk to developmental harm due to mercury exposure in the womb.

Sadly, we’ve become all too accustomed to fish advisories in the Chesapeake region, where an estimated two million-plus fishermen wet a line. But do we know all of the risks? I’m sure I don’t. Take a look at the anglers in Baltimore Harbor a weekend, or Elizabeth River in Virginia, and you’ll have part of the answer.

According to the report, the kicker is that we can prevent many mercury risks by simple actions, including reducing mercury emissions to air and water and eliminating mercury use in consumer products. State and federal officials should better inform the public about health risks associated with mercury exposure, says the federation. Both seem sound logic to me.

It is true that the EPA has existing mercury standards for water quality that it believes protect wildlife and public health. But it is also true that many of these standards have not been adopted by Bay states. So the standards benefit neither wildlife nor human health. The report also suggests another EPA fix is to enact new controls on coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions by about 90 percent.

It’s when reading reports like this that I reflect most seriously on the sorry state of our resources. It never crosses my mind when I’m up fighting a strong fish or preparing my catch.

Will I reduce the amount of Bay fish I eat? I seriously doubt it, but I’ll probably double check to see if I’m within the recommended consumption guidelines and bang on my political leaders to stop giving these health issues lip service.

Fish Are Biting
Near-gale-force winds made fishing all but impossible this past weekend. Chuck Foster caught a small break in the weather to take jumbo croakers and rockfish on peeler crabs around Cedar Marsh. Monday was beautiful, and charter fleets did well. Chumming the Gooses and mouth of Choptank turned up some keeper rockfish.

Throughout June, Maryland’s Tributary Teams host 10 public forums to announce the new nutrient reduction goals for each watershed. To provide feedback for your local watershed, visit DNR at www.dnr.state.md.us/bay/tribstrat or call 410/260-8708.



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Last updated June 5, 2003 @ 12:57am