Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Avoiding Heavy Metal; High Mercury Levels Lead to New Recommendations

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Avoiding Heavy Metal; High Mercury Levels Lead to New Recommendations

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Julavits, Times-Union outdoors editor

Spotted seatrout longer than 20 inches may soon join sharks and large king mackerel on Florida's list of marine species recommended for limited human consumption.

Large trout are among several species found to have higher than normal levels of mercury in samplings around the state. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has recommended that new advisories for those species be posted by the state Department of Health.

While 20-inch-plus trout would come under a statewide health advisory, the other species would be area-specific. Limited consumption would be advised for gag grouper caught off Tampa Bay and Cedar Key, amberjacks off Volusia County and redfish and snook in the Florida Keys.

"We don't want to scare people. Mercury is something that's always been with us," said George Henderson, a marine ecologist with the FWC's Florida Marine Research Institute.

"Mercury is in marine fish, and for the target population of children and pregnant women, it's advisable to be cautious." Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and also is distributed by manmade sources, including coal-fired power plants, wastewater treatment plants and incinerators. The metal has a strong affinity for organic material and is found in varying concentrations in the flesh of both freshwater and saltwater fish, usually within safe consumption limits.

In large doses, mercury can be toxic to mammals, birds and fish and can cause nerve and brain damage, sight and hearing loss and birth defects, according to the FWC.

"Young children and developing fetuses are more susceptible," said David Johnson of the Florida Department of Health. "Adults can have it as well if they eat enough contaminated fish."

The Department of Health's criteria for mercury advisories are: fish containing below .5 parts per million of mercury -- unrestricted consumption; .5-1.5 ppm -- limited consumption, with women of child-bearing age and children advised to eat no more than one 8-ounce serving of fish a month, and other adults no more than one 8-ounce serving a week; greater than 1.5 ppm -- no consumption.

Generally speaking, the bigger a fish is, the higher its mercury content. In its samplings of trout around the state, the Florida Marine Research Institute regularly found .6 and .7 ppm of mercury in fish greater than 20 inches in length.

Henderson said the proposed advisory for such trout was partially designed to dovetail with the current size limit restrictions. Except for one fish over 20 inches, anglers are allowed to keep only trout that measure between 15-20 inches. As a conservation measure, some anglers already make a practice of releasing the roe-heavy bigger trout they catch.

Trout are among the most popular recreational species in the state, and the FWC's advisory recommendations apply to recreationally caught fish only. …

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