Many Great Lakes residents don’t know they need to limit their fish consumption

MADISON — Despite the popularity of Friday night fish fry in Wisconsin, only about half of residents know there are limits to how much fish harvested from the Great Lakes basin they should consume each month to protect their health, according to a new study.

The study showed that, on average, those who fished themselves were more aware of the guidelines they should follow about how often to eat certain types of fish caught in the Great Lakes and their tributaries, in order to avoid lead, PCBs, mercury and “chemicals forever.”

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According to the study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the state Department of Health Services, 92% of 4,452 adults surveyed said they had eaten fish in the past 12 months, most of the people interviewed having said that they had eaten the fish they bought. But because the fish was bought, rather than caught, those consuming it were probably less aware of the notices.

For example, lake whitefish, lake trout over 22 inches, and yellow perch of any size from Lake Michigan should not be eaten more than once per week, due to PCBs. In Lake Superior, whitefish and yellow perch can be eaten up to once a month, but lake trout should only be eaten once a month.

Henry Anderson, one of the researchers involved in the study and a professor at the Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that to counter the lack of information, states in the Great Lakes region should focus on setting up advisory information. areas they know people will search for.

“You don’t go to the grocery store and go to the fish counter there and point to salmon or sea bass or walleye and ask what the fish consumption advisory is,” Anderson said.

One of the ways to let people know is to use the internet, relay the information to people, or put the information on a fishing license approval page, as the Department of Resources currently does natural. Some insurers have also started offering rewards for watching videos on fish consumption advisories, which is effective, he said.

But since most fish consumption advisories are aimed at infants and pregnant women, the best way to distribute information is usually through medical providers who deal with these populations, Anderson said.

“At the same time they tell you about not drinking alcohol, using recreational drugs or smoking cigarettes, they will tell you that you might want to pay attention to fish advisories,” he said. he declares. “Fish is good for the fetus, but you want to eat the least polluting fish.”

An angler catches a brown trout while fishing on a foggy morning on Lake Michigan near Oak Creek.

But despite being most at risk, women, in particular, were less aware of the advisories overall.

In addition to making sure information is more readily available online and through healthcare providers, people are going to parks and other areas where people commonly fish to talk to them about advisories and the way to protect yourself.

“We are making progress on many fronts,” Anderson said. “But it’s hard when someone catches a fish to tell them to throw it back. So they’re told the right way to clean it and cook it and not overeat it.”

The Great Lakes Basin includes parts of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, as well as parts of Canada. According Michigan Sea Grantabout 34 million people live in the basin, including about 8% of the US population and about 32% of the Canadian population.

One of the most concerning contaminants in fish is PFAS, which, like mercury, remains in the flesh of a fish, as opposed to the fat, which means there is really no way to remove it. avoid consuming the contaminant. In that case, Anderson said, limiting your consumption of PFAS-affected fish is the best way to stay safe.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of man-made chemicals used for their water and stain resistant qualities in products such as clothing and carpets, non-stick cookware, packaging and fire fighting foam. The family includes 5,000 compounds, which are persistent, remaining both in the environment and in the human body over time.

PFAS have been linked to types of kidney and testicular cancers, lower birth weights, damage to the immune and reproductive systems, and impaired hormonal and thyroid hormone regulation.

After:What New Federal Health Limits on ‘Forever Chemicals’ Mean for Wisconsin

The compounds have been found in fish collected from state waters, such as Angelo Pond, Green Bay and tributaries that flow into it, many lakes in Madison, and the Pentenwell Flowage.

Lake Superior is so far the only Great Lake to be subject to an advisory – for rainbow smelt. The advisory was published in 2020 and stated that small fish should not be eaten more than once a month.

Wisconsin has also issued advisories on mercury and PCBs, two other contaminants that often impact fish.

Even with concerns, fish is still a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, lean protein, and vitamins. Fish also contains choline, which supports baby’s spinal cord development, and iron and zinc, which support children’s immune systems.

How can I reduce the intake of contaminants?

The DNR has a number of guidelines that anglers (and those who like to eat fish) can follow in order to reduce potential harm from eating contaminated fish. Keep in mind, however, that there is no known method of preparing or cooking your fish that reduces exposure to PFAS.

Here is some:

  • Eat smaller, younger fish. Keep trophy fish in the water or on the wall and off your plate.
  • Space out fish meals to allow your body to get rid of some of the mercury.
  • To reduce exposure to PCBs, remove fatty parts from fish before cooking.
  • Use a cooking method that allows fat to drain, such as broiling or broiling.
  • Do not use cooking juices to prepare sauces or gravies.

For more information on fish consumption advisories in Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, or other Wisconsin waters, visit

Laura Schulte can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.

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