Eating recreationally caught fish from local waters can be a healthy and tasty activity. Over the past several weeks, I have enjoyed grilled walleye, broiled bluegills and fried crappies. They were all succulent, to say the least. Even more enjoyable was the fact all these fish came from Howard County.
Even though volumes of information have been printed and passed along detailing those areas where fish are safe or unsafe to eat, confusion still exists. Each year, Indiana’s fish consumption advisories receive more attention. Unfortunately, some of the information that gets passed along becomes less than accurate.
First off, don’t think these advisories are meant to discourage fishing — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. They are meant to maximize the benefits and minimize the risk of eating wild caught Indiana fish. There are basically two contaminants that drive our fish consumption advisories. They are mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, often called PCBs. Both are contained naturally in our environment, at low levels, where they pose no risk. The problem with tainted fish is because of lingering pollutants. Due to past industrial discharges, they have been pushed to higher levels in some of our waterways where they can accumulate in fish. The risk of consuming contaminated fish accumulates over time and can build in the human body, just like it does in fish.
Most don’t realize our consumption advisories are based on the principle that people are consuming 8 ounces of fish for 225 days a year over a 70-year period. I doubt anyone eats that much Indiana fish, but the state would rather be on the safe side, a viewpoint with which I agree. A determination can then be made, based on the contaminants found in tested fish, as to how frequently they should be eaten.
Our state’s advisories are divided into five groups. Group one is unlimited consumption. Group two is one meal per week. Group three is one meal per month. Group four is one meal every two months. Group five is do not eat. These groupings are a little more stringent for the more "sensitive population” which includes women of childbearing years, nursing mothers and children under the age of 15. The bottom line is: Do not stop eating locally caught fish. Yes, there are areas high in contaminants, like a major portion of our Wildcat and Kokomo creeks where fish should not be eaten. But there are still plenty of places where they are safe to consume. To set the record straight, the portion of Wildcat Creek where fish should not be consumed (Group 5) begins at the lowhead dam, located several hundred yards west of U.S 31., continuing all the way to the creek’s confluence with the Wabash River in Tippecanoe County. The dam can be seen when looking north from the Carter Street Bridge. From that same dam upstream, which includes the Kokomo Reservoir; fish are safe to dine on. As for Kokomo Creek, fish can be eaten when caught east of U.S. 31. Besides being delicious, fish are a great source of protein. Anglers and their families can further reduce exposure to fish-borne toxins by eating only the species and size of fish recommended for particular waterways. Panfish, like bluegills and crappies, will not contain contaminates like a large catfish. Properly preparing those fish can also remove some pollutants. As for those waters where it is recommended no fish be consumed, there is no reason we cannot still operate under a “catch, release and have fun” philosophy.