Vol. 9, No. 51
December 20 - 26, 2001 
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Filet of Woe: Fish Warnings Tough to Reel In

We’ve been told that folks in the seafood business felt the state was acting like Scrooge telling us this holiday season that we shouldn’t be gorging on certain fish from certain Maryland rivers.

As if we didn’t already suspect it, the Maryland Department of the Environment told us last week that some of our favorite fish — white perch, for instance — might be less than healthful if fish taken from some waters is eaten more than occasionally.

We’re a little peeved ourselves — but not at the state of Maryland. We’re upset — and we think you should be, too — at the industries that have been permitted to pour mercury, PCBs and other ingredients into Maryland waterways.

We’re irked that folks in the Free State don’t have the freedom to fish where they want as often as they can and feed their family that evening with their catch. Something very basic here is being violated.

We’re steamed at the state in one sense: They have permitted the effluents of manufacturing and the chemicals of farming to seep into our waterways to such an extent that consumption warnings must be imposed for what swims there.

The South and the Magothy rivers were two of the 14 Chesapeake Bay tributaries named by the state. In the South River, for instance, people were told not to eat more than one meal monthly of white perch and eel. You might want less if you’re pregnant or a child.

And those tasty and abundant Norfolk spot? Two meals (eight ounces each) monthly for adults and one for kids.

There are various warnings for other waterways, including a restriction or two on (say it ain’t so) crabs. (See it all at www.mde.state.md.us/fish_tissue/index.html.)

Officials did their best to play down their warnings. (“Don’t worry and keep eating fish but …”) They skirted the issue of Chesapeake Bay fish by saying tests aren’t in. And they ducked altogether the matter of commercial fishing.

What can we do about it? Ignoring the warnings is not an option because these are the sorts of chemicals that, while not making you ill in the short term, build up in your tissues over time and do nothing good for you.

Perhaps the best course is to be vigilant against those who threaten our precious waters. We hear about how Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Program, a federal-state partnership, are doing their darndest to stem the flow of Bay-choking nutrient pollution into our waters.

What about hazardous substances like mercury and PCBs? Given the evidence of these consumption warnings, are we fighting the wrong battle?

These warnings also should remind us not to fall into a trap now being set by some of our leaders in Washington: relaxing pollution-control standards for the sake of war or the economy.

We face more threats than terrorism, which should become clear as we’re told we can’t eat the fish we catch.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly