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An Eye-Opening Fish Story

2011 July 28
Lake near Bald Mountain, Adirondacks. Photo by Danny Hart

Lake near Bald Mountain, Adirondacks. Photo by Danny Hart

By Danny Hart

For the past few weeks I’ve been planning my vacation to the Adirondack Mountains in Northern New York. I’ve decided to recapture some of the childhood pleasure of trout fishing. As kids, my siblings and I learned “spin casting” as opposed to the more artistic “fly casting” method of fishing; though my grandfather tied his own flies and could fly cast, we didn’t inherit that skill.

As the time to depart for vacation nears, the excitement grows and I share my anticipation with coworkers. Last week, one asked from across our cubicle which lake I was visiting. I mentioned the name of the lake and she replied, “You know you can’t eat trout from that lake”. I couldn’t believe it! She showed me a website for New York waters and the health risks associated with eating fish from various lakes. I couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t be able to eat fish from a pristine, crystal clear lake! “DDT” she said, and lakes around the area were limited to one fish per month, one! Why? “Mercury” she said.

In that moment, the vision I had in my head of untouched natural wonder transformed to polluted, man-effected potential hazard. How could this be? How could these waters so far from industry have been changed? I realized then, that we are all connected in some way…that the smoke stacks in the Midwest directly affect the water and air quality of once-untouched waterways hundreds of miles away. The winds carry heavy metals and drop them in the form of rain. The DDT came from some other source, which is a mystery on that particular lake to this day.

Once I realized the connection I wanted to know more about this issue. I found out EPA recently finalized what is called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which will prevent smoke stack pollution like mercury and other toxics from traveling long-distances and polluting what should be pristine lakes. The agency is also developing mercury and air toxics standards that will go a long way to cut mercury — and other harmful pollution — from our environment, so that maybe one day my kids (and their kids) will have an opportunity to fish in these lakes.

So, next week we’ll boat and swim in the lake. But we won’t fish. To safely fish, we’ll have to drive to another lake. We’re lucky, because there are other lakes in the area where eating the fish is still safe. For now.

About the author: Danny Hart has been with EPA since 2006. He’s the Associate Director of Web Communications.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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12 Responses leave one →
  1. Craig permalink
    July 28, 2011

    Just because you cannot eat the fish doesn’t mean that you can’t go fishing. I am an avid angler, however I rarely if ever eat any of the fish I catch. Catch and release is a practice that hasn’t affected any of the fishermen that I know.

    It is also important to remember that different species of fish bioaccumulate toxins at different rates. Several species of fish that may be less affected by bioaccumulative mercury than trout provide for some very good eating.

    Finally, it is also difficult for me to believe that lakes within the same area have not been affected in similar ways. Hopefully the State of New York has been dilligent in sampling all of the lakes (and potentially affected species of fish) in the region and not just the one with the advisory.

  2. Doug permalink
    July 28, 2011

    I know this story exactly. Our family went to Minnesota five years ago with that search for my youth, swimming in lakes and teaching the girls about fishing….and eating fish. I was similarly shocked to find that you could eat about one fish per month because of pollution in the waters of the land of 10,000 lakes. Simply sad…

  3. Scott permalink
    July 28, 2011

    Check out the recent Denver Post article that discusses Colorado’s Eagle River return to healthy fishing after EPA’s Superfund cleanup efforts.

  4. Jim Simpson permalink
    July 28, 2011

    This is a load. The NY DEC informed me a few years back that the acid rain problem in the Adirondacks has long since been solved. People keep quiet about it because there is still money to be had in hyping the problem. This from field DEC officers. We have gone to the Adirondacks every year since 1999, fish in lakes and streams and have heard nothing about mercury, DDT or anything else. The largest problem is invasion of formerly trout-only waters that now have sunfish, perch and bass, that out compete the trout.

  5. Mac permalink
    July 28, 2011

    Excellent and good sharing thanks

  6. penny auctions reviews permalink
    July 29, 2011

    Thank you for taking the time to publish this information very useful!

  7. Danny Hart permalink
    July 29, 2011

    Thanks for the feedback all. Obviously this touches on several areas of interest. But ultimately it seems to be a disconnect between what we perceive as pristine and what is actually real. I’m just glad that I found out something is being done to reduce pollution in these amazing lakes.
    I’ll let you know how the trip turns out.

  8. Maria permalink
    July 30, 2011

    Here are some facts I found from National Water-Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA). They documented the occurrence of PCB’s in the Mohawk River in the vicinity of Utica and Little Falls, New York. These results contributed to decisions by the New York State Department of Health to issue fish consumption advisories on carp and selected game fishes, including large mouth bass and tiger muskellunge.

    Also, In 1962 Rachel Carson wrote a book called “Silent Spring”. The book argued that pesticides and especially DDT, were poisoning both wildlife and the environment and also endangering human health. The public reaction to this book launched the modern environmental movement, and DDT became a prime target of the growing anti-chemical and anti-pesticide movements during the 1960’s. However, to date, there is not a single known human death from DDT poisoning.

    It’s very sad that these chemicals have polluted our waters to the point that an old paste time like fishing is unsafe. I used to fish all the time when I was a little girl and the best part of it was cleaning and eating the fish we caught. Those days seem to be gone!

  9. Gary Boyer permalink
    August 7, 2011

    Seems there would be a distinction between stocked and holdover trout. Stocked trout should not be contaminated, as they were grown in uncontaminated hatcheries. Holdover trout could be contaminated.

  10. Gary Boyer permalink
    August 7, 2011

    Depends on how long the holdover trout were there, what they ate, etc.

  11. Danny Hart permalink*
    August 9, 2011

    We returned this past weekend. We did some fishing, but not nearly as much as we would have if the lake we were on was unpolluted. And any fish we caught we released.

    We found other ways to enjoy the beautiful Adirondacks, but even while swimming I couldn’t help but think about this blog post.

  12. Irishangler permalink
    October 3, 2011

    Hey Danny,

    Stumbled upon you post here, glad to hear you returned the fish, it’s probably only a small thing in America, but over here in Ireland we try to encourage everybody to do it, altho many of the trout anglers abuse the take home limit :(

    If you ever make it over to ireland give us a shout

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