It was one of those hot and muggy summer days on the Kalamazoo River and I had just finished securing my canoe on top of the car after a paddle, when I noticed the three young anglers parked next to me. All had come in the same truck and none were wearing masks. They were rigging their fishing rods, getting ready to walk down to the river.
I watched with mild consternation as two of them crossed the parking lot headed for the riverbank. Somewhat conflicted, I decided to say something and turned to the third, a nice 20-something area resident and said: “Do you know you can’t eat the fish in these waters? The sign down there by the boat ramp says they are contaminated.”
He looked up at me with surprise in his eyes and calmly said, “No. This is our first time here.”
“Check it out for yourself,” I responded pointing to the sign I had noticed earlier when three of us (all over 60) had launched solo canoes, each having driven our own cars to try to maintain social distance, masks in our pockets should we need them.
I was reminded of the ways of my youth — impulsive, spontaneous and sometimes unaware. Today, I don’t think of eating fresh-caught fish without knowing whether they are safe, meaning uncontaminated. When in doubt I check the online advice and warnings that are provided by Michigan’s Department of Health & Human Service’s fish consumption advisory program.
We don’t hear much about the fish consumption advisory program these days, but there is a wealth of information there about safe fish to eat, what lakes or rivers are contaminated, how many portions are safe to consume of various species and which not to eat at all, particularly if you are pregnant or young and plan to have kids soon, or have diabetes or cancer. It also describes how to prepare and cook fish to reduce contamination levels if those levels are low enough to allow limited consumption.
The information is found at Michigan.gov/eatsafefish where you can find answers to questions about what is safe, or not. Click “Find your Area” for specifics about various waters and the fish that are caught in them. There are also general statewide guidelines for waters that do not appear on the list organized by county, and what to consider with regard to mercury and other chemicals.
Many have heard about the contamination problems on the Kalamazoo River after
the Enbridge oil spill, but the problems there predate that incident. PCBs or Dioxin are the concern and most of the river has Do Not Eat warnings for popular species. Many other popular waters around the state have their problems, too. There are good health reasons to add fresh fish to your diet, and fishing is fun, but choosing wisely which fish you eat means fewer toxic chemicals get consumed and accumulate to cause later health problems.
I don’t know what the three young anglers decided to do, but as I drove out of the parking lot, I did notice them all standing around the sign reading it. That, I figured, was a pretty good start. ≈
Howard Meyerson is the managing editor of Michigan BLUE Magazine.