Remember that advertisement for the movie “Jaws II” that came out with the teaser, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”?
The teaser for this column should maybe read, “Just when you thought it was safe to eat fish again.”
There has been much research on healthy lifestyles during the last several decades. Much of that has centered on the benefits of a diet rich in fish. Even fish oil supplements have been touted as beneficial for the aging heart and various heart conditions. Apparently eating fish is one of the best things for folks.
Then a couple of decades back, we had all that kick and growl about the elevated mercury levels in fish from Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and the rest of the great lakes. For years we were cautioned against eating any fish caught in those lakes.
Through the years, most of the toxic contamination caused by industrial pollutants has been cleaned from the lakes and the fish are again safe to eat. Or are they?
In this life, noting is ever as simple as it appears. Despite what some folks would have you believe, certain toxic elements, like lead, occur naturally in our environments. Heck, we even have naturally occurring arsenic in our water.
Below certain levels most of these toxins are not deemed to be harmful to our bodies. When those levels escalate is when we need to start worrying.
Much of the blame for the presence of these toxic substances has been laid at the doorstep of industry.
My point? Just last week the story broke about the extremely high levels of mercury in trout living in Yellowstone Park. Bigger fish, those 18-25 inches, had much higher percentages of mercury in their flesh than smaller ones. Researchers postulate the bigger fish eat smaller fish and so accumulate more toxins from the little guys.
But the real news is these uncommonly high mercury levels were naturally occurring in the waters fed by the various hot pots, sulphur springs and mud volcanoes that drain into the rivers flowing out of the park.
Fortunately, mercury, being a heavy element, settles out and slowly sinks into the muddy bottoms of the larger reservoirs as water entering those impoundments slows. Fish caught in the waters below the dams display a marked reduction in mercury levels in their flesh. Which would lead one to assume the fish caught below the big dams are safer to eat than their brethren who reside in the higher elevations. Also, smaller fish are safer to eat than bigger fish.
So maybe the fly fishermen have this catch and release thing right? Perhaps we should forgo eating fish caught in any of the rivers and streams that drain the upper Yellowstone region?
Can being a worm dangler be even more hazardous to your health than a spirited discussion of the differences in fishing philosophy with a hard core feather flinger?
After all, we who practice the piscatorial art of bobber and bait, tend to eat our catch. Could an excess of mercury in our brains explain our penchant for garlic butter, fresh caught brookies and beer?
Even more importantly, will it affect our reproductive capabilities, answering the fervent prayers of those vested fly fishing interests who advocate for the “Holy Grail” of catch and release?
More importantly, is Al Gore aware of this and can he figure out a way to capitalize on this natural event by blaming it on tourists?
Personally, I plan on continuing to eat the fish I catch in the upper North Fork. But maybe we now have a clue about where I come up with all these ideas and opinions that cause my wife and many readers to shake their head.
Like my idea to form an organization dedicated to barbed hooks and bait called “Fish Eaters Unanimous” – for which all former feather flingers would be required to complete a 12-step program before being admitted.