A new report that was released in time for the upcoming Ontario Family Fishing Weekend has grim news for anglers keen on catching their dinner in the Great Lakes.
The report by the group Environmental Defence finds levels of toxic chemicals are alarmingly high in Great Lakes fish, part of a steady, worsening trend.
“While fish remains a healthy choice for consumers, toxic contamination levels suggest that we are still treating the Great Lakes as a toxic waste dump,” said Aaron Freeman, policy director of Environmental Defence in a release.
“We are clearly not doing enough to protect this vital ecosystem. We need stronger pollution regulations and a real plan from the federal and provincial governments to clean up the Lakes.”
The study, dubbed “Up to the Gills: Pollution in Great Lakes Fish,” got its results by tracking the Ontario Ministry of the Environment’s annual Guide to Eating Ontario Sport Fish. The publication sets out guidelines each year for eating fish caught in Ontario lakes.
The group tracked the publication’s findings for four species in 13 locations across the Great Lakes – a system that provides drinking water to 40 million people, power to the homes and businesses of a 521,000 kilometre basin, and is home to 4,000 species of plants, fish and animals, according to the report.
There report uncovered few signs of hope, and in Lake Ontario the results were the worst. Eight categories of Lake Ontario fish became more contaminated between 2005 and 2007, while only one category improved during that period.
“While contaminant levels in many Lake Superior and Lake Erie fish seem to be at only a moderate risk level, Lake Huron and Lake Ontario often have very restrictive fish consumption advisories,” the report states.
“While consumption advisories in Lake Superior and Lake Erie have become slightly less restrictive in some regions since 2005, in areas of Lake Huron and Lake Ontario, consumption advisories have become disturbingly more severe.”
The report also points out that although the government-issued guide indicates which fish are dangerous to eat, it doesn’t provide enough information about why they received that designation.
Freeman said that has to change, and the government should start releasing specific data about actual levels of contaminants in fish compared to historical levels of contamination.
“The toxics can really add up,” he said in a release.
“Fish from the supermarket, from the chip stand, and from the Great Lakes all contain various concentrations of harmful contaminants, which all together can have serious cumulative effects on human health.”
The report makes the following recommendations for reducing levels of contaminants and improving contamination reporting methods.
·         The establishment of a comprehensive public record with current and historic levels of chemical contamination.
·         The creation of a program for monitoring local fish consumption patterns to ensure fish advisories serve the needs of specific at-risk populations.
·         The establishment of stringent timelines for reducing chemicals on the International Joint Commission’s virtual elimination list.
·         Setting targets for the reduction and where possible elimination of other carcinogens, mutagens, neuro-toxins and reproductive toxins released into the air, water and soil of the Great Lakes basin.
·         Strict guidelines for the production, use and disposal of chemicals of emerging concern must be adopted.
·         The federal government must adopt new national enforceable standards for sewage treatment, including strong provisions for dealing with toxic substances in the sewage treatment process.
·         Pollution from agriculture, urban development and other non-point sources must be addressed through programs to reduce their impact or infiltration into the Great Lakes, including an ecosystem-based land-use decision making process that protects remaining healthy fish habitats.
·         The Great Lakes Fishery Commission must be given the resources to conduct studies and put forward recommendations for restoring the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem and protecting the commercial and sport fishing industry.
Ontario Family Fishing Weekend runs from July 6 to 8. During that time, Ontario residents of all ages are permitted to fish without a license