One fish, two fish, don’t eat that catfish
Dondre Gaither lazes on a blanket by the Tuckertown Resevoir, stringing bait on a hook. Nearby is a bucket holding a fish that’s at least a pound.
It’ll be his supper.
“I prefer going fishing rather than buying from the store,” said Gaither, of Salisbury. “If you fish, you know what you’re getting.”
Gaither and many others fish along the Yadkin River. Some — like Robin Wilson and her son, Matthew, of Rowan County — have caught enough fish to freeze and eat later.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people in this area who eat what they catch,” Robin said.
But debates about levels of dangerous chemicals in the Yadkin River are raising concerns about which fish are safe to catch and eat.
The state must decide whether to renew the certification of four dams operated by Alcoa Inc., one of the world’s leading aluminum producers. Alcoa shut down its Badin Lake plant years ago, but it still operates the hydroelectric dams that powered the plant and sells the electricity.
In light of a report last week by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, environmental activists are calling for further study into the company’s potential role in the pollution. The report found elevated levels of the chemical polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, along the Yadkin River.
“There is contamination that Alcoa is directly responsible for,” said Executive Director Dean Naujoks of Yadkin Riverkeeper, a nonprofit that works to protect the basin. He believes the state should conduct more studies before making its decision.
Alcoa’s blog about the dams, The Yadkin Project, stressed that PCBs also were found well upstream of Badin Lake.
“This is not an ‘Alcoa issue,’ but an issue that impacts the entire Yadkin watershed,” stated a blogpost.
Whatever the cause, PCBs can be dangerous.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PCBs are probable carcinogens. Additionally, there is evidence that PCBs have detrimental effects on the immune, reproductive and neurological systems, especially for children.
Naujoks said residents who do not eat fish from the Yadkin River have nothing to worry about.
“I’m not trying to scare people from going in that water,” he said. “People can swim in that water. People can drink that water.”
However, Naujoks said families who are going to eat the fish should be educated about the advisories concerning PCBs, as well as mercury level advisories, which can be found at epi.publichealth.nc.gov.
Only catfish and largemouth bass can have high enough levels of PCBs to do damage, particularly if they are big, Naujoks said. According to the Division of Public Health, concentration of PCBs increases as they move up the food chain.
Lisa Appel, who works at a bait shop in Denton, said these fish aren’t as tasty when they’re large.
“Put them back. Let somebody else catch them,” she said.
Naujoks said ideally, signs would be posted in all affected areas explaining which fish are unsafe.
“At the very least,” he said, “this is a good opportunity to educate people about fish advisories.”
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What Not to Eat
Limit normal intake to 1-2 times per week of:
• Largemouth bass
• Any fish the EPA labels high in PCBs or mercury
Do not eat these fish if you’re:
• Nursing, pregnant or may become pregnant
• Under 15 years old
Be careful with fish caught along the Yadkin River.
• High Rock Lake
• Tuckertown Reservoir
• Badin Lake
Do not eat these fish if they are:
• Long (more than 18 inches)
• Heavy (more than about 2 pounds)