.News Update 4/3/09

State Agencies Issue Consumption Advisories for Fish Caught in New Mexico's Lakes, Rivers, and Streams

April 3, 2009

The New Mexico Environment Department, along with the Department of Game and Fish and the Department of Health, recently released a table of consumption guidelines for fish caught in New Mexico lakes, rivers, and streams. The recommendations are based on the size, species, and location where the fish are caught and center on the consideration of three dangerous contaminants and the potential health hazard that they present if consumed over a long period of time. This advisory updates previous advisories, which have been issued since the early 1990s.

The advisory notes that fish are a healthy addition to one's diet, but that they "may contain contaminants at levels that could lead to health problems." The advisory presents a specific chart of limits of how many meals a month you can safely consume of fish, assuming eight ounces of fish as one meal.

The major contaminants of concern that occur in fish are mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dichloro-diphenyl trichloroethane (DDT). The state agencies periodically collect samples of fish and check for levels of these contaminants, using the information in an effort aimed at reducing the risk of adverse health effects for people consuming fish.

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that is toxic at very low levels in fish. It accumulates in fish over their lifetimes, so as a general rule larger, more mature fish have a greater likelihood of containing harmful amounts of mercury.

PCBs and DDT are chemicals used for pest control and industrial uses. Both were banned from use in the U.S. in the 1970s, but there are still releases. Once in the environment, they are persistent and long-lived.

Risks associated with PCBs, DDT, and mercury include damage to the brain, nerves, kidneys, and cardiovascular system, as well as an increased risk of various types of cancer. These contaminants are especially harmful to small children, infants, and fetuses still in the womb. They can create problems with nerve development, mental retardation, learning disabilities, lack of coordination, blindness, seizures, and speech disorders.

Though there are major health risks involved with exposure to these contaminants, the advisory stresses that there is no risk associated with catch and release fishing, swimming, boating, and camping in or around bodies of water mentioned in the fish advisory.

PCBs and DDT are stored in the fat deposits of the fish. The advisory recommends that proper cleaning and preparation can help in removing contaminants. When eating listed fish, removing the skin, fat, and internal organs is important. Cooking methods can also reduce the contaminant level. Preparations that allow the fat to drip away such as broiling, baking, or grilling, are much better than frying, which seals the contaminants in the fat.

For more information and to view the fish consumption advisory, please visit the websites for the New Mexico Environment Department www.nmenv.state.nm.us and the Department of Fish and Game. The 2009-10 Fishing Rules and Information Booklet are now being distributed by the Department of Game and Fish to vendors across the state. The 2009 Fishing RIB also is posted on the Game and Fish Web site at www.wildlife.state.nm.us/publications/documents/rib/2009/09FishRIB.pdf

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