MERCURY IN GAME FISH – BEWARE! (June 17/13)

Brook trout fried in an iron skillet, the butter spattering in the pan as the fish brown up.

Is there any better spring dish?  Is there any better reason to go fishing than a golden brown, well fried, crispy pan of brook trout?

Anglers who’ve been fishing for brook trout more seasons than they can recall, pan frying them every spring, will tell you these are unnecessary questions.  Brook trout on the table, along with suitable condiments and vegetables, is one of the reasons most of us go fishing; in many cases probably the only reason.

Personally, I like a few dollops of catsup or salsa, along with a few onion slices with my trout.  I prefer eating small trout – and not because they’re safer to eat than larger fish when considering mercury content.  To me, the small trout taste better; they fry up crispier for sure, and the brown water, swampy taste of the larger brookies is absent.

As for the mercury content of trout, if you enjoy frying up the fish you catch, it’s something you should check into.  It’s enough of a concern that the angler’s handbook passed out with the fishing license every season contains a fish consumption advisory.  The advice, in a nutshell, is limit your consumption of freshwater sportfish, especially the larger fish.

The advisory doesn’t go far enough, however.  In effect, the advisory says that the mercury content is not all that high in rainbow trout, brook trout and white perch – below Health Canada Guidelines in fact – but just to be safe, limit your consumption of these fish.  Brown trout and smallmouth bass aren’t mentioned specifically but we should be cautious with these fish as well.

Where they don’t go far enough is limiting the advisory to freshwater fish.  From the studies I’ve read and what I’ve been told, striped bass and flounder also contain unsafe levels of mercury.  I’ve shopped several times at tackle shops in Maine where striped bass fishing was big.  At every store I was told that no one eats the larger stripers because of mercury content.  They simply aren’t safe to eat, is the word I got.

Yet here in Nova Scotia we’ve been legislated to release small striped bass, the fish that are safe to eat, and to keep large ones, the fish with high mercury content.  Don’t you find this bizarre?  The fisheries people advise us that due to mercury content in fresh water large fish we should limit our consumption to small fish.  Yet it’s a different mind set when it comes to stripers!

By the way: If you want to see how widespread mercury is in fresh and salt water fish, including the canned stuff you buy at the grocery store, go to your computer’s search engine.  Search for mercury content in fish.  You’ll be surprised and shocked by how prevalent mercury is in everything that swims in the water and has fins.  You may find that those pans of fried brook trout I raved about above don’t look so succulent any more.

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