Catching, cooking, and eating fish can be a wonderful experience, but due to pollution being added to our waters daily, one must become educated as to which ones are safe. Therefore, it is quite important to keep abreast of the latest findings of the diligent biologists of the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD).
Additional lakes and river segments are continually being added to the list of sites that have fish consumption guidelines in Georgia. The primary contaminant found in fish from listed waterways is mercury, and guidelines range from no restrictions to a restriction of one meal per month, depending on the size and species of the fish.
Following the introduction of fish consumption guidelines in 1995, a five year rotating schedule to track trends in fish contaminant levels was begun. Priority for testing fish was based on rivers and streams downstream of urban and/or industrial areas as well as areas frequented by a large number of anglers.
Each year, WRD fisheries biologists provide fish from waterways throughout the state to the DNR’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for contaminant testing. Each year, the EPD tests more waterways, which leads to new fish consumption advisories.
Though mercury is found in low concentrations in many species of fish throughout the country, the level set for mercury by the EPA is extremely low. Since the EPA lowered the level for mercury in 1995, fish consumption guidelines for mercury have been added to waterways where they were not needed under earlier testing levels. In the past, fish consumption guidelines in Georgia were driven primarily by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) and chlordane. Both of these contaminants were traced to industrial materials in the 1970’s and 1980’s, which have since been banned. Their levels are slowly decreasing in the fish that are tested. The source of mercury is much harder to trace.
Landing a Lanier StriperMercury is a naturally occurring metal that recycles between land, water, and air, and is also produced from municipal and industrial sources and from fossil fuels. Unlike many contaminants that can be traced to industrial and municipal discharges, agricultural practices, and storm water runoff, mercury contamination is related to global atmospheric transport. In this way, mercury found in fish in this state could be a byproduct, not only from fossil fuel use and industrial activities in Georgia, but also from these kinds of causes initiated far beyond the state’s borders.
Global atmospheric transport is a difficult concept for most people to understand, but citizens need to realize that industrial activities in other states, or even on other continents can, in fact, impact them in their own backyards. Georgia is not the only state that has increased fish consumption guidelines driven by mercury levels. Florida has also found high levels of mercury in fish in the Everglades that has lead to strict fish consumption guidelines in that state.
A variety of different fish species are tested each year for 43 separate contaminants, including metals, organic chemicals, and pesticides. The only three contaminants that show up in significant levels are PCB’s, chlordane, and mercury.
Fish consumption guidelines are designed to protect public health and provide the public with more useful information on eating fish from Georgia waters. It is important to keep in mind that these guidelines are based on eating fish with similar contamination from the same waterway over a period of 30 years or more. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children may wish to limit fish consumption to a greater extent than the level listed in the fish consumption guidelines.
One can view the fish consumption guidelines in the Freshwater and Saltwater Sport Fishing Regulations, which can be found at all WRD offices and wherever fishing licenses are sold, or contact the Wildlife Resources Division at (770) 918-6418.