What should you eat from the lake?

By: Kristyne E. Demske, | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published April 11, 2017

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Casting their lines into the water at the Blossom Heath pier, local fishermen are divided.

“I just like catching them. I don’t eat very much of it,” said Chet Muraszewski, of St. Clair Shores.

His wife, he joked, won’t cook what he catches, so he mostly practices catch-and-release fishing off the pier. When the weather warms, however, he fishes for walleye in the Detroit River. 

“They don’t want you eating bottom-feeder fish around here,” he said. “The perch, they eat a bit higher.”

Other anglers say they’ve been fishing and eating fish from off the shores of Lake St. Clair their entire lives and don’t see a reason to stop or limit their consumption of the fish. 

The state of Michigan’s Eat Safe Fish guide, however, recommends that certain species in certain areas have limited consumption because of chemicals found in the fish. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services puts out the guide using data from tests on fish that are conducted around the state, including on Lake St. Clair and along the shores of the lake in St. Clair Shores, specifically within 2 miles of the Lange-Revere Canals, where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working to eliminate polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. 

“What we’re saying is, look at what you’re catching and look at our advice for the area,” said Christina Bush, a toxicologist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Fishing off the shores of Lake St. Clair within 2 miles of the Lange-Revere Canals — an area that spans from Lakefront Park in Grosse Pointe Woods to Veterans Memorial Park in St. Clair Shores and out into the nearby open waters — the guide recommends that healthy adults consume no more than six servings per year of bluegill, sunfish and walleye, one serving per month of largemouth and smallmouth bass, and two servings per month of perch because of PCBs. Larger bass may also contain mercury. 

It also recommends cutting off as much fat as possible from the fish, as that is where PCBs are stored, but mercury is in the meat of the fish and cannot be cut or cooked off. 

The guide calls special attention to the Lange-Revere Canals, stating that no fish caught in those canals should ever be consumed, a notice first posted to consumers in 2011 after unsafe levels of PCBs were found in samples of carp, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed and black crappie collected in 2010.

PCBs can cause harm to brain development in fetuses and children and have been linked to the development of cancer and diabetes, as well as the potential harm of the immune system. Mercury has also been linked to problems with brain development in fetuses and children, as well as a harmed immune system and harmed heart function in adults.

Bush said they can’t predict who will get sick, however, so they just recommend that people limit their consumption of the fish to be safe.

“We can say what the risk is, so the more you eat of these fish, the greater your risk is of having one of these health impacts,” she said. 

Bush said that, although the EPA is working to clean up the PCB contamination along the 10 Mile Drain and into the Lange-Revere Canals, the work has begun “upstream.”

“So once those get cleaned up, then we’ll start testing the fish again so that there’s no longer a source of contamination that could get into the fish,” she said. “We can start seeing how they change. Once it starts to look like a trend ... (we) like to see, usually two years of data that’s showing a decrease, that’s showing an impact by the place being cleaned up. Then we would start relaxing these guidelines and they would be less restricted.”

In the remainder of Lake St. Clair, the guidelines are less restrictive. Bluegill, small black crappie and white crappie, and sunfish can be consumed up to eight times per month. Yellow perch and larger white and black crappie are recommended for not more than four servings per month. Freshwater drum, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and northern pike can be consumed up to twice per month, and walleye is recommended to be consumed no more than six times per year. 

The state guidelines, available when anglers get their licenses or online at michigan.gov/eatsafefish, say that not everyone will get sick from consuming the chemicals and the chemicals in fish won’t make you sick right away. But since they don’t know who will be affected by the chemicals and who will not, it is best to make the safer choice now. 

Bush said consumers can also check the Buy Safe Fish guide to find safe fish in the grocery store. For those shopping at local fish markets or places where the fish have been caught locally, it’s best to be able to ask where the fish was caught and then consult the Eat Safe Fish guide to make the safest decision.

“Fish is a great food, but we want people to make safe choices so that they can maximize the benefit and minimize any risk,” Bush said. 

She said her department, as well as the Department of Natural Resources, is still working with the EPA and the Macomb County Health Department as the cleanup of the 10 Mile Drain system continues. 

But until the cleanup is concluded, she said anglers should pay attention to the signs out by the Lange-Revere Canals warning people not to eat fish caught in the canals and to the restrictions placed on fish caught in the special notice area spanning from Lakefront Park to Veterans Memorial Park.

Whether they catch and release or eat it all no matter the guidelines, local anglers said it’s just great to get out to the water.

“I enjoy fishing,” Muraszewski said. “I’ve been here 45 years. Never found a reason to move away.”