Fish: It's What's For Dinner

This male is lucky he’s a male. He’s probably still swimming around due to that and the fact that he’s over 9 pounds. We were all business on this trip to put-and-take rivers with no natural reproduction last week. A couple females were less fortunate. One of them was “what’s for dinner” tonight and featured in the second photo.

I sympathize with Ned Kehde in his post on the dangers of atrazine and other deadly toxins in fish. It’s quite possible if not likely steelhead in the rivers I’ve been posting about in southern Wisconsin are also contaminated with it. Along with some PCBs from an old industry that made transformers. Atrazine and PCBs are both POPs—persistent organic pollutants that don’t break down in nature. Or in our bodies. Meaning they stick around and irritate ad infinitum. PCBs have been banned. Atrazine certainly should be.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the science departments of several universities in the United States, atrazine is linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lymphoma. Atrazine has been banned in Europe, but continues to be sold at a pace of 400,000 tons per year in the United States. Overall, more than 2 billion pounds of pesticide are sold in the US every year, according to CBD. Certainly, wisdom demands erring on the side of caution. Atrazine, along with a broad range of insecticides proven to be fatal to fish like salmon and steelhead, should not be dumped indiscriminately on things our children must eat.

But if we stop eating fish because of pollutants, what’s left? Atrazine is dumped on terrestrial farms, not directly into lakes and streams, where it’s diluted and less potent. If the FDA tested for it and posted the results, as various agencies do for mercury in fish, people may want to stop eating fruits and vegetables.

It is counterintuitive to believe that out of millions of tons of air-bourne pollutants pumped into the air each year, none will end up in our food. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 386,000 tons of toxic chemicals are pumped into the air each year by coal-fired power plants in the US alone. The US sends about 3 million tons of other air-bourne toxins into the air every 12 months. Difficult to imagine the tonnage sent billowing into the air in China over the course of a year—some of which ends up here.

Again, various agencies monitor for mercury in fish. Who monitors mercury in deer? Corn? Or cows? The National Wildlife Federation recently released a compendium of 65 studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals on mercury in the environment. Mercury levels were found in almost everything tested, including mammals, reptiles, forest soils, birds, amphibians, and plants. Bioaccumulation in fish makes it more dangerous? Probably not. If it’s in plants, it’s accumulating in deer and cows, too. “Mercury pollution suddenly poses a severe threat to wildlife of all kinds,” says Catherine Bowes, manager of NWF’s Northeast mercury campaign and principle author of Poisoning Wildlife: The Reality of Mercury Pollution. “The discovery of mercury in so many species is certainly a wake-up call.”

 Not only was mercury found almost everywhere researchers looked, it was found “in elevated levels.”   We might be Fish: It's What's For Dinnergetting more mercury from a deer tenderloin than from a salmon steak. “Recent studies have found high mercury levels in animals that do not ingest fish,” states the executive summary report from Alaska in the same compendium of studies.

 A now-famous study on Isle Royale many years ago showed industrial pollutants in fish. Isle Royale is surrounded by Lake Superior, with no history of industry or mining, proving pollutants like toxic metals can be carried by air currents to even the most remote areas on earth.

Eating less fish certainly isn’t the answer. The discussion began with the mention of omega 3s. The Mayo Clinic says two servings of fish per week will cut your chances of dying of a heart attack by a third or more.  “When it comes to a healthy heart,”  writes the Mayo Clinic Staff, “the benefits of eating fish outweigh the possible risk of exposure to contaminants.” Check out this great article from Health Ambition about some of the best sources of omega-3 available!

Fish. It’s maniacally delicious and heart smart. Even without counting the omega 3s, fish are loaded with anti oxidants and provide minerals, vitamins, and great protein without hormones, antibiotics, added carcinogens, or other problems associated with store-bought meat. It’s what’s for dinner around here.

In central Minnesota, north of most heavy agriculture and industry, we feel, perhaps a bit naively, our fish and game remain “safe.” The fish certainly test safer than those Kehde mentions in Kansas, but are not free of toxins from air-bourne pollution. I feel Ned’s pain. It’s terrible when people can’t eat wild game and fish without fear of ingesting contaminants proven to do real harm to people. In a healthy nation with a healthy attitude, the health of the populace comes first. Of what possible use are profits or jobs without good health?

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