In spite of pollution, some fish are safe

Fish that feed low on the food chain, like trout, usually have low mercury levels.
Fish that feed low on the food chain, like trout, usually have low mercury levels.

I agree fully with Mary Thill’s frustration with the mercury levels in our fish [Viewpoint, Sept./Oct. 2011]. However, there is more to the issue and even some good news that needs to be publicized.

The health advisories at the back of the state Fishing Regulations Guide include a list of lakes and rivers plus additional advice for the Adirondack and Catskill waters. If this advice is followed (and it should be), there are still many waters where certain fish can be eaten safely with minimal levels of contaminants.

There are three basic guidelines to help decide whether fish may be high in mercury:
First is fish species, as not all fish are alike. Sunfish, trout, and bullhead that feed low on the food chain usually have low mercury levels because they eat insects and items low in mercury. Bass, walleye, and northern pike are predators and eat other fish and other organisms that may have accumulated mercury.

Second is fish size. Smaller fish of the same species have less mercury.
Third is the water chemistry and characteristics of the lake. Waters that are acidic and have wetlands bordering the shoreline are more likely to have fish with higher mercury concentrations.

In spite of the good news, the mercury problem is of serious concern, and the fish consumption advisories should be followed, especially by women and children. We also need to continue working to reduce air pollution from coal-burning power plants. This will help the Adirondacks recover from both acid deposition and mercury in our fish.

Howard Simonin, Holland Patent
(Simonin is a fisheries biologist who worked for many years collecting fish and analyzing the data behind many of the mercury advisories.)

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