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Chemical levels down but still high

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Chemical levels down but still high



SCOTT DUNN, TOM VILLEMAIRE / www.midlandfreepress.com



Slowly but surely things are getting better on Georgian Bay, but they are far from perfect says a report from an evironmental watchdog group.


Fish in Lake Huron and Georgian Bay contain fewer chemical contaminants than they did four years ago, according to a new report.


But overall levels of chemicals in Great Lakes fish are still alarmingly high, says Environmental Defence, an advocacy group for health and the environment.


The report --Up to the Gills: 2009 Update on Pollution in Great Lakes Fish --uses data published in the provincial government's Guide to Eating Ontario Sports Fish and compares fish advisories from 2005 to 2009.


In 36 categories of fish advisories for Lake Huron from Point Edward to the Bruce Peninsula and in Georgian Bay, 11 became less severe over the four-year period.


I was surprised to hear they are so bad. But I tend to throw the big guys back anyway. I like to keep the smaller fish for eating. They're delicious and I don't think they have as much of the bad stuff in them"


Sean Black -angler Lake Huron, including Georgian Bay, had the greatest improvement of any of the Great Lakes, said Mike Layton, author of the Environmental Defence report.


Nine categories were listed as the least restrictive and 24 of the 36 categories saw no change.


Generally the larger and older the fish, the more likely it is to have accumulated contaminants such as PCBs and dioxins, Ministry of the Environment spokeswoman Kate Jordan said.


The trend seen by the MOE, which produces the consumption guide, is for "slightly lower" or "stable" concentrations of contaminants in fish, which Jordan said is generally reflected in the Environmental Defence report too.


Georgian Bay's most improved fish for eating is the rainbow trout this year over the previous provincial recommendation in 2007 --four monthly meals of large rainbow (75 cm/30 inch) --up from one.


Four meals of medium-sized rainbow (55 cm/22 inch) may be eaten per month instead of two.


Large chinook salmon (75 cm/30 inch) from the bay can also be eaten once a month, as was advised in the 2007 eating guide. More meals of medium and small fish are considered OK.


Eating large lake trout remain a problem this year, with none recommended for consumption, though smaller lakers can be eaten.


"I was surprised to hear they are so bad. But I tend to throw the big guys back anyway. I like to keep the smaller fish for eating. They're delicious and I don't think they have as much of the bad stuff in them," said Sean Black, a Tay Township resident and local angler.


In Lake Huron, guidelines for rainbow trout allow four meals of medium and large (75 cm/30 inch) rainbow, up from two in 2007.


But no meals of large chinook salmon from Huron are recommended, whereas in 2007 two meals per month were considered acceptable. No meals of big lake trout from Huron are recommended either.


One meal of medium-sized lake trout from Huron per month is edible now, where none were in 2007, according to the study.


Eating restrictions for bigger fish have generally been the case for years, said Ray Walser, president of the Lake Huron Fishing Club, whose Chantry Chinook Classic fishing derby runs from July 25 to Aug. 8.


"You can't catch them that big" now anyway, Walser said. A 30-inch chinook or lake trout would represent a 20- pounder and the derby winners for the past four years were all smaller than that. Last year's fish fry used just 50 pounds of locally caught fish; the rest was purchased from a Lake Erie supplier.


For Lake Ontario, 40% of the advisories examined for the report stated it was unsafe to eat the affected fish in any quantity.


Black's belief that smaller fish are better is borne out in the science, says Layton.


Larger fish typically receive more severe advisories because they are older and have accumulated more contaminants in their tissues. But in Lake Ontario even some small sizes of fish are under the most severe advisories, Layton said.


Gerry Hurley, a retired fishing guide who worked just outside of Toronto off the Credit River, says big fish are fun to catch, however a bad idea for eating. But catch and release of large fish is also good for the species.


"In a way, letting the big guys go, is good for you and the fish population. If you don't keep them and eat them, you're avoiding that accumulation of crud the scientists are talking about. Those big guys are survivors for a bunch of reasons and it's good to keep them out there in the water and the gene pool," laughed Hurley.


Hurley retired to Midland three years ago, where he enjoys fishing as a pastime, not a business.


"The fishing is great up here and I would say catch and eat fish that fit in a frying pan and you probably can't go wrong."


It's recommended that women of child-bearing age and children under 15 eat half of what the advisories indicate.


The consumption guide helps determine how much and what kinds of fish can be consumed without risk.


"Fish are still a great choice for our diets but we need to make sure we are not exposing ourselves to high levels of harmful chemicals," Layton said. "The problem will not just go away."


Heavy accumulations of chemical contaminants can lead to cancer and damage to the nervous, respiratory and immune systems.


The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, signed in 1972 by the American and Canadian governments, badly needs updating, Layton said.


"We need a new document that has some teeth. Both governments indicated recently that they are going to do something to protect the Great Lakes and we need them to follow through.


"Mercury levels are still a huge problem," he said. "On the Canadian side, only one of 17 (polluted) areas of concern has been delisted. That one area is near Collingwood.


"We've got to stop polluting; we need to reduce industrial pollution, improve infrastructure so less raw sewage goes into our lakes, and stop agriculture and urban runoff," Layton said.


To read the entire Environment Defence report, visit www.environmentaldefence.ca./reports/up to the gills ---


Consumption assumptions:


Consumption recommendations of the Ontario government, from the 2009 biannual Guide to Eating Ontario Sport Fish, reported in a new Environmental Defence report on contamination in Great Lakes fish.


Georgian Bay


* Chinook salmon -One meal (75 cm or 30 inches long) of large, like in 2007 guide. Two meals of medium (55 cm or 22 inches long) or eight meals of small (35 cm or 14 inches long) chinook per month, both the same as 2007.


* Rainbow trout -Large, four meals per month, instead of one advised in 2007. Medium, four per month, double the last guide's total. Small, eight small, unchanged from the previous guide.


* Lake trout -No large lake trout, just as last year. One meal from medium or four from small fish, both as recommended in 2007.


*Walleye consumption limits remain unchanged. Recommended limits are four meals for large and eight for medium or small walleye per month.

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