By Eric McGuinness
The Hamilton Spectator(Jul 6, 2007)
Just ahead of Ontario’s Family Fishing Weekend, a Canadian environmental watchdog group warns Great Lakes fish still contain “alarmingly high” levels of toxic chemicals, and that some levels are rising.
While Environmental Defence recognizes the benefits of fish in a healthy diet, policy director Aaron Freeman cautions consumers to watch what kind of fish they eat, and where it comes from.
In Toronto yesterday, he said he didn’t want to scare people away from a meal of Lake Erie perch or Georgian Bay whitefish, but: “Toxics can really add up. 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 release of its report Up to the Gills: Pollution in Great Lakes Fish — available at www.environmentaldefence.ca — was timed to coincide with this weekend, when Canadian residents can fish without a licence in any public waters in the province (www.familyfishingweekend.com).
McMaster University professor Gail Krantzberg, who formerly ran the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes regional office, sees several messages in the report.
“One important message is that people need to balance the health value of fish against the threats, and people are entirely capable of that, if they use the book the province puts out, which tells you which Great Lakes fish you can safely eat and which to avoid.”
The book is the 2007-2008 Guide to Eating Ontario Sport Fish, available in 19 languages at www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision.guide.
As long as you use the guide, you can “go ahead and enjoy” eating Great Lakes fish, she said.
“We have a long industrial legacy of pollution in the Great Lakes, and some fish are unsafe to eat. People have to know that. But there has been a cleanup and some that were unsafe are now safe.”
Environmental Defence compared the 2007 fish-eating advisories with those issued in 2005, and found reductions in contamination in Lake Erie and some other places, but said eight categories of Lake Ontario fish became more contaminated while only one category improved.
No change was noted in Hamilton Harbour, where the environment and natural resources ministries say it’s unsafe to eat the biggest chinook salmon, rainbow trout and carp. Limited consumption of smaller fish is OK. Advisories are strictest for kids and women of child-bearing age.
emcguinness@thespec.com