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Toxic chemical levels in fish

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Apr 8, 2022

Ever wonder who checks on the toxic chemical compounds in the fish we consume from Florida’s waters? The Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services operate together to test and determine what chemicals are present in the local fish we like to eat.

From this data, fish consumption advisories are generated and usually divided into two categories: children/ pregnant women and all other healthy adults.

Although trace elements from a very long list of chemical toxins are present in most fish we consume along with micro plastics, the number one contaminant in all tested fish is mercury. The first mercury advisories were issued starting in 1989. Other frightening toxins include heavy metals, PCBs, dioxins, arsenic and pesticides generated from industry, agriculture and animal farming, then into the air and water, as well as the weed, insect poisons and fertilizers that Floridians from Jacksonville to Key West spray on lawns in the morning, later washing into local waters and our seafood, with the summer’s afternoon rains.

Different species of fish, both fresh and saltwater, absorb and store mercury in their tissues at different rates. In freshwater, shorter lived species like bluegills, crappies and perch, contain much less mercury than longer lived fish like largemouth bass.

In marine fishes, sharks, tunas, king mackerel and some grouper contain high levels of mercury. Other popular eating species like grey snapper, sheepshead and pompano, farm-raised catfish, clams, cod, crabs, flounder, haddock, herring, mullet, cooked oysters, pollock, scallop, shrimp, squid, and tilapia contain much lower levels.

To check on your favorite eating species go to the Florida Department of Health website and look under fish consumption advisories. Be prepared for some not so appetizing news.

Like delicious black grouper? Children and pregnant women are advised to only eat one meal per month. Gag grouper, the same. Black fin tuna and cobia have a “do not consume” advisory for kids and pregnant women, as well as for sharks and king mackerel.

Florida’s freshwater lakes and river systems are also listed with almost all advising only one to two meals a week or one per month, depending on the species harvested and location caught. Many on the list have do not consume advisories for children and expecting mothers.

There are 56 pages of eating guidelines for Florida’s marine and freshwater species, including advisories from most all freshwater lakes and rivers throughout the state. Sadly, of most all the freshwater and marine species on the health advisory website, normal adults are generally advised to only eat one meal a week while other species are to be eaten only once a month, or not at all.

Viagra in your fish? Recently saw a study of South Florida bonefish that identified a long list of human medicines in their tissue. Blood pressure meds, prostate treatment meds, antibiotics, pain relievers, etc., were found in all 93 sampled South Florida bonefish with an average of 7 prescription drugs per fish with one fish hosting 17 drugs. These same compounds are also found in the small invertebrates and fin fishes bonefish consume daily. Does this mean, the whole South Florida marine shallow water environment, and most of its fishes and inverts, are also medicine contaminated? You be the judge.

The problem, other than the obvious one of folks flushing old meds down the sink or toilet, is that wastewater treatment plants are not designed to eliminate them. Not only do we need to continue conversion from septic to city sewers but treatment plants need to modernize to combat this latest threat to Florida’s fish and human consumers.

It’s truly sad to think that in far too many cases across this country, we are at the point that the practice of catch-and-release is not only the best thing for the fish, but for the consumer as well.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.