Bill Hilts Jr.: Relaxing of fish consumption standards is good news for anglers, state – Buffalo News

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Bill Hilts Jr.: Relaxing of fish consumption standards is good news for anglers, state

Tom Calvert of Virginia holds up a king salmon from Lake Ontario and Capt. Mike Johannes of On The Rocks assists. 

Capt. Mike Johannes photo

The recent announcement of more relaxed restrictions on eating fish from New York’s Great Lakes comes as welcome news for the angling community, especially charter captains who serve as ambassadors to this dynamic sport fishery in the Niagara River, most of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. In the big picture, it will undoubtedly mean more people visitors to engage in fishing adventures.According to the advisory, issued from the state’s Department of Health, the entire family can eat fish from Lake Ontario, the Niagara River and most of the St. Lawrence River. From the advisory, women under 50 and children under 15 can eat up to four, half-pound meals a month of brown bullhead, rainbow smelt, rock bass, white sucker and yellow perch. They can also eat up to one, half-pound meal per month of Lake Ontario salmon and several other fish species.The Great Lakes continue to clean themselves from the industrial contamination suffered from years of pollution. The banning of certain chemicals continues to have a positive impact on the environment as well.“This is another positive statement on Lake Ontario’s progress of maintaining a world class fishery,” said Chris Kenyon, the outdoor recreational coordinator for Wayne County Tourism. “Not only do we have trophy catches, but the fish are also safe to eat, too, for anyone looking for table fare.”Kenyon should know. He has been promoting the angling resources of Lake Ontario for nearly a quarter-century. He is an important part of the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council, a group made up of seven Lake Ontario counties that work together to market this Great Lake through the tourism offices in each county.“All the partners involved with promoting Lake Ontario will embrace this latest report from DOH,” Kenyon said. “The No. 1 question we are asked as we attend sport, travel and outdoor shows around the northeast is, ‘Can I eat the fish?’ This updated advisory will make a huge difference when it comes to marketing the lake, including putting people on charter boats and putting heads on beds in the lakeshore communities.”Capt. Frank Campbell, a licensed skipper, and the Niagara County Sportfishing Promotion Coordinator, said this about the announcement: “The update on the amount of acceptable consumption of Lake Ontario salmonids is great news as it speaks volumes as to the rate at which the Great Lakes are cleaning up. To say it is safe for women of childbearing age to eat a meal of salmon a month is a statement I never thought I would hear. Now everyone can enjoy the opportunity to catch and prepare a healthy meal of salmon.” The DOH has long issued advice about eating sportfish because some fish might contain contaminants at levels that could negatively affect a person’s health. These DOH health advisories help people make better choices about where to fish and which sportfish to eat. They also provide advice on how to handle and prepare fish to reduce their exposure.The health advice is based on fish contaminant data collected by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) statewide fish monitoring program. Based on the data collected, the DOH changed its advice for several state waterbodies.“It is very exciting when we see a decline in chemicals in fish that allows whole families to enjoy fresh caught fish meals from some of the largest fisheries in New York State,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement. “Lake Ontario, and the Niagara and St. Lawrence Rivers offer incredible fishing opportunities. By following our advice, anglers can make healthier choices about eating and sharing the fish they catch with families and friends, while reducing the potential for exposures.”Remember that these are advisories, based on testing an uncooked fillet. According to a brochure from NY Sea Grant, by removing any of the fatty portions of the fish, you will also be removing anything that could be in that fillet. Also, after cooking the trimmed fillet, you will be removing any of the fatty juices that, again, could contain anything if it were in a particular fish. It is all about limiting potential risk.“This is certainly great news for our fishery and a big step forward for New York,” Capt. Rob Westcott, president of the Lake Ontario Charter Boat Association, said. “Having the option to safely eat the fish that you catch is very important to the charter industry's clientele and being able to promote that to the public is nothing short of a big deal.”For information on the advisories in place for the Western Region of the state, click through to https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/fish/health_advisories/regional/western.htm.The advisory in place for Lake Ontario, the Niagara River and St. Lawrence River for women under 50 and children under 15 now falls in line with Lake Erie for walleye and other species. For males over 15 and women over 50, the advice is four meals a month for most species in the Great Lakes.On a personal note, I will personally consume Great Lakes sportfish whether it is from Erie or Ontario. In my mind, nothing that can beat a fresh Coho or Chinook salmon from Ontario or walleye and perch from Erie. I do take the precautions of filleting out the fatty portions as well as the lateral line, primarily for the taste. Even if something might (and I stress might) be in the fish I consume, the benefits of eating fish over something like red meat are good.Many years ago, I was part of a team that assisted the University at Buffalo in new fish contamination testing procedures as a graduate student. We motored out into Lake Ontario to collect samples by fishing. Our first two fish were healthy-looking Coho salmon, and they were placed in the cooler.When I asked if there was anything in those fish that we should be concerned about, the response was that the researcher was taking them home to grill – not to test.The main point: Our Great Lakes are getting better all the time in the way of health, especially if you choose to eat your catch. Advisories were also relaxed for numerous other water bodies across the state. For a list of those waters, check out health.ny.gov/fish. Please pass the salt and pepper.

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Tom Calvert of Virginia holds up a king salmon from Lake Ontario and Capt. Mike Johannes of On The Rocks assists. 

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