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Public Meeting On Fish Advisory at Paris Landing State Park; Community Seeks Answers

February 5, 2016 | by Steve McCadams

Recent postings of fish advisory signs by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation along the Big Sandy embayment of Kentucky Lake have the region buzzing. Property owners, anglers, businesses and various tourist related entities have concerns and questions.

News of a warning not to eat bass from these popular fishing waters have shocked most who yearn to know more about why contaminants---in this case high levels of mercury---have been discovered and for the first time in this area merit the warning of increased risks of cancer or other serious illnesses in humans.

Signs warn that fish---bass in this case---should not be eaten by children, pregnant or nursing women. All others, says the sign, should limit consumption to one meal per month.

Most people aren’t quite sure what to make of it all. Hats have been removed. Heads have been scratched. Puzzled looks are the norm.

Nowhere on the sign offers readers a phone number or other contact information in the event they want to know more.

How long will the advisory last? What can be done? What are the long range effects for the area?

Apparently the level of confusion and concern has gotten the attention of several local officials and legislators. The whole saga has stimulated a public meeting planned for Monday night at Paris Landing State Park Inn. It begins at 6 p.m.

Anyone with questions or an interest as to what’s going on with this recent fish advisory is encouraged to attend. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will make a presentation on the matter at hand.

Several questions have emerged since this column appeared last week and helped inform the public about the ongoing saga.

Information received from TDEC after last week’s column went to press has helped answer some questions, although several remain. More details of just how many fish were sampled to arrive at the warning remain unanswered and the signs did not make mention of other species such as crappie and bluegill.

A lengthy report received in an email titled: “Frequently Asked Questions About Mercury and Fish Tissue Advisories”, which is posted at (http://www.tn.gov/assets/entities/environment/attachments/news_water_FAQ-Mercury-012716.pdf, according to Eric Ward, Deputy Communications Director, is one place to gather some information.

Unfortunately, everyone concerned about this shocking news doesn’t necessarily have computer access or is internet savvy.

Some interesting information contained says both crappie and bluegill are not under the advisory. Somewhat troubling, however, is the finding within the report that fish in West Sandy creek (the area behind the levee known locally as Springville bottom) has not been tested!

Springville bottom is a very popular fishing area at times when water levels permit. Anglers will no doubt want to ask why it has not been tested? Meanwhile, other portions of Kentucky Lake are not under the advisory and the northern boundary of the advisory stops at a line running from Pace Point into Big Eagle Recreation Area, referred to locally as Pine Point in Eagle Creek.

Here are a few findings also in the report but are only a small summary:  Why bass? Bass species are predator fish at the top of the aquatic food chain, so mercury tends to biomagnify (build up at higher levels) in them.  Also, because mercury tends to accumulate in muscle tissue rather than in fat, as is the case with organic compounds such as PCBs, they tend to accumulate in greater concentrations in the more muscular gamefish rather than the fattier rough fish or catfish.

For the same reason, some of the conventional wisdom concerning ways to reduce the contaminant levels in fish by broiling the catch or by removing as much fat as possible, are not effective with mercury.

The advisory was about eating fish. Do other activities on this body of water carry risk from mercury?

These advisories pertain only to fish consumption, says TDEC.  Swimming, boating, wading, or catch and release fishing from these waters carries no risk.  Tap water from approved providers does not contain mercury.

To learn more---and there is more to learn---about this recent discovery and troubling news tell your friends and neighbors to attend Monday night’s meeting and perhaps gain a better perception of what the present and future holds.

Photo by Libby Mundy

This male eastern bluebird is looking for an insect to munch on. Easily spotted by binoculars, the males are bluer than the females which are mostly grey in color.