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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

'Gone fishin': A closer look at the catch of the day

Going fishing is as American as barbeques on the Fourth of July. Despite increasing concerns about the safety of seafood, fishing maintains a wholesome image of lazy afternoons with quaint rowboats and bamboo fishing poles.

After all, your own catch is in fact healthier and more sustainable than commercial seafood. Your wild-caught fish got plenty of exercise and ate a natural diet, and was never exposed to the drugs and chemicals that taint farmed fish – at least not intentionally. In addition, plucking a single fish out of the water is far less environmentally damaging than a massive ocean trawler scraping the sea floor. Your catch also does not have to be processed, packaged, and shipped thousands of miles to your plate.

However, despite these perks, the real deal behind catching your own fish may surprise you.1 Newly released state advisories reveal the alarming truth about wild-caught fish. In North Carolina alone, the number of dangerously contaminated fish species has tripled in just one year, leaping from seven to 22 from 2005 to 2006. Due to prohibitively dangerous levels of mercury, this year’s new advisory warns pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children under age 15 not to consume any of 17 marine and five freshwater species, including such common fare as Spanish mackerel, marlin, shark, and tuna. Fishermen are warned not to consume largemouth bass caught anywhere in the state, for fear of danger to the brain and kidneys.

This danger is real. Suzanne N., an amateur fishing enthusiast from Virginia, can certainly attest to that. On a family vacation in 2003, she innocently ate a fresh tuna she and her family caught off the coast of Long Island. “It was delicious,” she recollected. “But the next day I literally fell to my knees in pain, clutching my neck.” After extensive medical testing, Suzanne learned that she is highly sensitive to heavy metals, such as mercury and cadmium, which frequently accumulate in fish. The tuna incident was actually a case of acute heavy metal poisoning, which almost killed her. Three years later, she is still struggling to eliminate these poisons from her body through medication and strict diet modification.

While Suzanne is an extreme example, the rest of us will soon be reacting similarly if current trends continue. After all, no standards or certification for organic or sustainably harvested seafood currently exists. Until we clean up our waterways, all our fish populations will be in trouble, and all fish will be contaminated, no matter how it’s caught. Currently, scientists at the EPA estimate that eating less than one serving of wild salmon per month still places you in the “moderate” range of their cancer risk scale. Proceed at your own risk!

by Sara Kate Kneidel
Greener Magazine

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