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Published: Saturday, 8/3/2002

State program cuts sink fish advisories

BY RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ray Woodson, left, and Leonard Braxton, both of Toledo, relax in the shade of the Anthony Wayne Bridge while fishing in the Maumee River. Ray Woodson, left, and Leonard Braxton, both of Toledo, relax in the shade of the Anthony Wayne Bridge while fishing in the Maumee River.
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People who cast their fishing lines from the banks of the murky Maumee River recline in lawn chairs next to buckets of writhing channel catfish - a species listed in the “Do not eat!” category by the Ohio Department of Health.

Last month, the health department cut its fish consumption advisory program for next year. The department will no longer examine fish samples collected by the state Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The health department also has stopped printing brochures that explain which regional fish pose health risks. In past years, the brochures were distributed at local fishing supply shops.

But at the governor's request, health department, Ohio EPA, and ODNR representatives will meet and try to find ways to fund the program in time for next year's fishing season, Jay Carey, a health department spokesman, said.

Store owners said that many fishermen don't take the bait anyway.

Tami Mickles of Toledo pulls hard on her pole as he fishes for perch in the Maumee River beneath the High Level Bridge. Tami Mickles of Toledo pulls hard on her pole as he fishes for perch in the Maumee River beneath the High Level Bridge.
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“Those brochures just sat there. Ninety-nine percent of my customers aren't interested,” Dave Ray, owner of Edgewater Bait and Tackle on 131st Street, said.

Mr. Ray said that customers took about 50 of the 300 fish consumption advisory pamphlets he displayed on the counter last season. He threw the rest away.

“Most people I have coming in know what the warnings are. Some people are going to eat the fish regardless,” he said.

The state health department eliminated the fish advisory program to save $100,000 annually.

The department already has started cutting back on its pamphlet printing. It printed 200,000 copies of the warnings this year, compared to up to 600,000 in past years, Mr. Carey said.

Still, he said the state will try to come up with funding so it can issue a 2003 advisory.

“We've got some time here, but there's work to be done,” Mr. Carey said.

The Michigan Department of Community Health printed as many as 1 million advisory pamphlets in past years, but made just 55,000 this year, Geralyn Lasher, the department's director of communications, said. The Internet has become the department's “predominant distribution method” for information, she said.

Certain types of fish in Ohio and Michigan contain harmful chemicals, such as mercury and man-made oils called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These contaminants can build up in people over time and cause cancer and birth defects, Dr. David Grossman, Lucas County health commissioner, said.

“Nobody in my family eats fish out of the Maumee River. I listen to what the government says,” Kris Hampton-Bey, of Toledo, said. He said he has fished the Maumee since he was a child, but he returns his fish to the river.

“I get my fish at the store,” he said. “I can't sue the Maumee River for giving me a disease. I can sue the store.”

Other Toledoans cannot afford store-bought seafood, so they catch their own fish in the river.

“A lot of people eat the fish every day and it doesn't bother them. They've been doing it for years,” said Jim Chandler, who fishes under the Anthony Wayne Bridge.

Rick Ferguson, owner of Al Szuch Live Bait in Jerusalem Township, said advisories exaggerate the dangers of eating Lake Erie perch and walleye. He often eats fish five times a week.

“Those pamphlets are all propaganda,” Mr. Ferguson said. “If the fish are cleaned right, you don't have a problem.”

Unless new pamphlets are published, the county health department will distribute leaflets left over from previous years. Fish consumption advisories do not change much year to year, Larry Vasko, Lucas County's deputy health commissioner, said.

“The fish advisory is an important program,” he said. “People should take the warnings seriously.”

Warnings will still be posted on the Internet at http://www.odh.state.oh.us/Alerts/fishadv.pdf.

Ohio

Department of Health Consumption Advisories

The

Ohio Department of Health assesses health risks posed by fish in the state's

waters. Contaminants in some species of fish can cause cancer and birth

defects. The health department issued the following advisories for 2002:

Do

Not Eat

Body

of Water

Area

Under Advisory

Species

Maumee

River

Mouth

to Waterville

Channel

catfish

Ottawa

River

Wildwood

Preserve to Maumee Bay

All

Lake

Erie

All

waters

Channel

catfish 16" and over

Meal

Advice

Body

of Water

Advisory

area

SpeciesOne

meal per

Lake

Erie

All

waters

Chinook

Salmon under 19

week

Freshwater

Drum, Smallmouth Bass

week

Walleye

under 25"

week

Chinook Salmon 19 and over

month

Coho

Salmon, Common Carp

month

Steelhead

Trout, White Bass

month

Whitefish,

White perch

month

walleye

25"

month

Channel

Catfish under 16, Lake Trout

2

months

Maumee

River

All

waters

Common

Carp, Smallmouth Bass

month

Waterville

to Indiana border

Channel

Catfish

week

Mouth

to Waterville

Freshwater

Drum, Largemouth Bass

week

Ottawa

River, Lima

All

waters

Channel

Catfish

week

Portage

River

Ohio

Turnpike to Lake Erie

Largemouth

Bass, Smallmouth Bass

week

Channel

Catfish, Common Carp

month

Portage

River, North Branch

All

waters

Common

Carp

2

months

Sandusky

River

All

waters

Common

Carp

week

Channel

Catfish, Largemouth Bass

month

Tiffin

River

All

waters

Northern

Pike, Smallmouth Bass

month



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