Sunday, April 6, 2008

Would you eat fish out of the Saskatchewan River (Saskatoon)

Recently I became involved in a debate regarding eating fish out of the Saskatchewan River after explaining how my parents used to take me fishing when I was younger in North Battleford, Sk. I have fond memories of fishing every so often with my parents and my mom cooking up the odd pickerel that we caught. Keep in mind that was approx. 20 years ago and times have changed, or more specifically the environment.

The debate focused on eating fish out of the Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon over concerns of the mercury level in fish. To be fair, mercury is found all around us, in the soil, air, plants and animals but the fact remains it has the highest concentration in fish. If mercury is found all around us, what is the big deal about eating fish that contain traces of mercury?

Before attempting to answer that question, an understanding of how fish are exposed to mercury in the first place needs to be addressed. Fish are subjected to mercury via the environment they swim in (naturally) but the majority is taken from the organisms they consume. Hence the older the fish are, the more mercury they may have in their system versus younger fish. Mercury levels in fish are reported in ‘ppm” (1 part in a million, mg/kg) while mercury in the water is measured in “ppb” (1 part in a billion, mg/kg). Methylmercury is the converted form of mercury that is absorbed by organisms. In addition, the higher up in the food chain the fish are, the higher the mercury level is in their flesh.

Where does that leave Saskatchewan? A provincial Contaminants-in Fish Committee has been analyzing Saskatchewan fish since 1969. They correlated the mercury levels of fish to their length. The Canadian Health and Welfare deemed .5 ppm as the acceptable tolerance level in fish. Fish with less than .5 ppm were considered acceptable to eat while those higher were definitely not acceptable for commercial sales. Then in 1984, Saskatchewan adopted the guideline that fish between .5 and 1 ppm could be eaten in limited amounts. In 1986, Saskatchewan adopted the following mercury ratings that corresponded with Manitoba and Ontario:

- 0 indicates fish contain less than .5 ppm
- 1 indicates fish contain .5 to 1 ppm
- 2 indicates fish contain 1 to 1.5 ppm
- 3 indicates fish contain more than 1.5 ppm

Thus the recommended guidelines for consumption are:

- 0 means the fish may be eaten in unlimited amounts
- 1 or 2 means that fish can be eaten in limited amounts
- 3 means that fish should not be eaten

What do these numbers mean? Well a 1 signifies that a fish should only be eaten for one meal every week and a 2 means that fish should only be eaten one meal every 2 weeks (emphais on eaten!). Keep in mind that there are benefits to eating fish such as the proteins, essential nutrients and low levels of saturated fats and presence of ‘healthy’ fatty acids they provide. Thus in 2004, Saskatchewan Environment concluded the level of mercury in Saskatchewan fish were as following:

Could the environment change that rapidly in 4 years? Of course it can but did it? Throughout my research of this topic (and keep in mind it was contained to the www), I found 0 up-to-date documents supporting the argument that eating fish out of the Saskatchewan River is harmful to your health. This is not to say that I do dispute the fact fish are contaminated with mercury but the level of mercury to the point where it is harmful is. If fish were REALLY that bad for you to eat out of the Saskatchewan River (in Saskatoon) don’t you think there would be more public awareness of it? What are your thoughts and if you have any factual documentation proving otherwise, let me know and I will be first to change my opinions and admit it.

PS. Since we are on the topic of fish I thought that I would throw in a picture of the 46lb sturgeon my parents graciously let me reel in off the shore in North Battleford (and boy was it a fight). Thanks mom and dad :-)


Anonymous said...

You are not allowed to catch sturgeon unless you are native!!!

Anonymous said...

They taste gross anyway

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