New Warning About Eating California Fish


I have been fishing in the Sierras since I was old enough to hold a fishing rod and 50 years later I’m still fishing—and eating many of the fish I catch. While I have practiced catch-and-release in the more recent years, I still love the taste of brown trout, as I mentioned in a recent column. Yes it was good and I ate the whole darn thing!

So when I opened up the South Yuba River Citizens League newsletter a couple of days ago, I couldn’t believe what was on the front page—a warning about the excessive mercury levels of fish in the Sierras and the better part of California fish. What shocked me more than anything was that according to the most recent information, the big brown trout that I caught recently, shouldn’t be eaten at all! What?

Now the bad part (for me anyway) was that a few months ago I was tested for heavy metal poisoning, and found out that I am off the charts poisoned with both mercury and lead. This certainly came from my past profession, and I can’t tell you with certainty that any of it came from eating fish, especially trout, but I have eaten a ton of it over the years. So, under the advise of my naturopath, I have been doing a radical detox, and it ain’t no fun! The point is that as connected as I am to nature and my community, I had no idea what was going on.

A recent article in The Union sheds more light on a study done in 2013 of 272 California lakes and samples from over 2,600 individual fish. My question is why this information hasn’t been promoted better. I do recall reading a report on mercury in the 2015 fishing handbook, but the truth is that not many people read it. If I haven’t heard of it, chances are the average weekend fisherman won’t have a clue and that somehow seems unfair. Mercury has been known to cause havoc on humans and is related to a plethora of diseases and disorders. It’s bad stuff!

There is good news here and it relates to rainbow trout (the most commonly caught trout) that I was glad to learn because I always knew that trout was a great source of Omega-3’s and a healthy food. According to studies, women and men over the age of 45 can eat up to six servings a week of rainbow trout while women under the age of 45 and kids under the age of 17 can eat two servings of rainbow trout per week.

Women under 45 and kids under 17 are more susceptible to the negative effects of mercury for some reason. Sadly, bass and the big brown I caught shouldn’t be eaten at all and I’m glad I know that now. Browns under 16 inches, catfish and various sunfish (bluegills etc.) can be eaten once a week and are considered moderate risk.

Now that the summer is here, you can bet that there will be a lot of people at all of the beautiful, serene California lakes and many of them will be fishing for the first time. That’s wonderful considering how healthy and enjoyable it is to fish. I am hoping that we find a better way to educate people, most of which don’t know, about which species are healthy to eat so that we can continue to enjoy this great pastime for generations to come.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons