MASSENA — A local fishing guide has shared his concerns with federal and state officials about the possibility of contaminated perch ending up on restaurant menus in Massena, Canada and Vermont.
“I’ve been working on this issue for years. It’s been pretty frustrating,” Donald Lucas said.
He said, during a recent St. Lawrence County Fisheries Advisory Board meeting, he shared his concerns with representatives from the state Department of Health, state Department of Environmental Conservation, Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, state Senate and Assembly, healthcare providers, Riverwatch from Canada and St. Lawrence County legislators.
“There was an overwhelming consensus that the practice of selling contaminated fish needs to be stopped. In the end, everybody kind of threw their hands up in the air and said it was going to be difficult to tackle because there was not one agency to take the bull by the horns,” Mr. Lucas said.
He has also brought his concerns to monthly meetings held by the Environmental Protection Agency this past summer to update the progress on the Grasse River remediation efforts.
Most recently, he contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Elise N. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, who asked the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the matter. In a letter to Mr. Lucas, an Environmental Protection Agency official said that, while they don’t have jurisdiction over the sale of fish, they do work closely with states and tribal nations to develop information that assists them with issuing local fish advisories.
“To support this effort, EPA conducts and publishes research and fish contamination and fish tissue analyses. EPA also works with state, tribal nations and federal partners to provide information about what species of fish are safe to eat, and ultimately works to reduce contaminants in the environment and protect aquatic habitats,” the EPA official said.
In addition, the official said, “EPA provides guidance to states, territories and tribal nations about issuing fish consumption advisories when contaminant levels in fish or water bodies are unsafe” and “encourages states to issue safe eating guidelines to inform the public about which fish species are safe to eat without consumption restrictions.”
The state Department of Health also weighed in on the situation.
“New York State Sanitary Code allows the use of locally caught fish at food service establishments where allowed by Department of Environmental Conservation regulations pertaining to fishing, possession and salability of various fish species. The Department of Health Fish Advisories provide consumer guidance and are not regulatory in nature. Consumers may inquire about the source of locally caught fish when making choices about consumption,” spokesperson Erin Silk said in an email.
The advisories can be found at https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/fish/health_advisories/regional/st_lawrence.htm. They include information about the particular body of water, the type of fish, advisories for men over 15 and women over 50, advisories for women under 50 and children under 15, and chemicals of concern.
Among them, the Department of Health advises that men under 15 and women over 50 can eat up to one meal of white perch and white sucker from the St. Lawrence River each month, but the fish should not be eaten by women under 50 and children under 15 because of PCB concerns.
The EPA official suggested that, because they don’t have regional staff dedicated to the issue, Mr. Lucas could work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which has fishery units that are responsible for the oversight and management of fishery resources.
Mr. Lucas said he wants to educate the public about being cautious when ordering St. Lawrence perch at a restaurant.
“The main reason we’ve been pursuing this is there are a lot of people that are unknowingly going in and reading St. Lawrence perch on the menu. They’re playing Russian roulette because they don’t know if the fish are local or not,” he said. “Most particularly, women of childbearing age and children should not be consuming these fish because of local PCB contamination.
“When the subject was brought up to a Mohawk chief, he said he was concerned with the fact that these fish were also being caught by residents of the Mohawk tribe,” Mr. Lucas said.
He hopes that the issue could be resolved with some changes.
“Number one, either they put a size limit on perch, which would make it illegal to sell them,” he said.
They could also institute a closed season, when the fish are spawning and can’t be caught.
“They should have a closed season during the spawning period. You can catch two or three at a time in the spring when they’re spawning. They shouldn’t catch them,” Mr. Lucas said.
The gist of it
n WHAT: Local fishing guide Donald Lucas says individuals should be cautious when they order perch in local restaurants
n WHY: He said he’s concerned about the possibility of contaminated perch that have been caught locally ending up on the menu
n RECOMMENDATIONS: Mr. Lucas suggests that the issue could be handled by putting a size limit on perch and also instituting a closed season when they can’t be caught