Fish has always been touted as a healthy food, but pollution has introduced a danger that makes fish caught from some areas less than safe if eaten in abundance.
Recent tests show levels of mercury in fish caught across Georgia, said Chandra Brown, Ogeechee Riverkeeper. The Ogeechee Riverkeeper's Association released the report, "Protect Yourself and Your Family from Mercury Pollution," to provide people with "critical information on the levels of mercury in area fish," she said.
The full report can be found on Internet website http://www.ogeecheeriverkeeper.org/mercury.
"Mercury is a toxic pollutant that can cause birth defects and other problems in developing babies and young children if their mothers eat the contaminated fish," she said. "Releasing this report in time for Mother's Day was really important to us. I know how stressful it can be to try to make the right decisions for the health and safety of my family. We saw this report as a little gift to help moms make safer choices when choosing what seafood and fish to feed their family.”
While the report only addresses the Ogeechee and Canoochee rivers, tests were conducted statewide, and results for most large bodies of water can be found on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Internet web site www.gofishgeorgia.com/node/705, said Bryant Bowen, fisheries biologist at the Waycross Department of Natural Resources office.
Mercury "bio-accumulates in fish and the (other fish and creatures) they eat," he said. "There's not much we can do as far as what is going on with our industries."
Mercury comes from the environment. "Ninety-nine percent of the mercury in the Ogeechee River system comes from air pollution,” Brown said. “The vast majority of the mercury released to our air comes from coal fired power plants. The best thing we can do to reduce the amount of mercury in the fish and on our families' dinner tables is to reduce our electricity usage.”
No one knows for sure exactly where the mercury in our fish originated, but it does not break down naturally and accumulates, Bowen said. Larger fish, which eat smaller fish, end up with the largest amount of mercury, so fish like largemouth bass have higher levels, he said.
Brown said over 60 fish were collected last fall from the Ogeechee, Canoochee and other rivers and streams near the coast. They were tested at the University of Georgia.
"The results of the study closely mirror the (consumption) recommendations for the state," she said. "The largemouth bass and larger fish collected from the Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers had mercury levels high enough to trigger a recommendation to only eat them once a month."
This means that if you eat large fish from the Ogeechee or Canoochee Rivers, you should not eat any other fish for a month, she said.
Smaller fish, such as small catfish and red breast, fared better with the levels triggering a recommendation to restrict eating those fish to one meal a week or less.
"Of the fish caught along in-shore coastal waters, the mercury levels were much lower than those found in the Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers," she said. "However, every fish collected had mercury in it." As a result, she recommended limiting the consumption of sea trout and whiting to no more than one meal a week, particularly for the most vulnerable populations: women of childbearing years and young children.
"Mercury is a dangerous pollutant," she said. "Developing babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to its effects. When pregnant women eat mercury contaminated fish, they pass the mercury through to their developing babies resulting in learning disabilities, lowered IQ levels and other potential birth defects."
Brown recommends people fishing in the Ogeechee and Canoochee rivers eat only one largemouth bass meal a month.
The following fish, if caught in the Ogeechee, should be eaten only once a week, she said: spotted suckers, red breasts, bullheads, and channel catfish. There was no limit on mullet.
For those catching fish in the Canoochee River, Brown suggests a more limited diet of fish. The recommendation for red breasts, small bullheads, bass and channel catfish are once a month, indicating higher mercury levels found in fish from the Canoochee.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 489-9414.