Fish Consumption Advisory needs to provide Illinois anglers with more context

Photo by Brian Peterson

Like a lot of fishermen in Illinois, I’ve never really understood the “Sport Fish Consumption Advisory” that is sent out each year by the Illinois Department of Public Health. It seems like an unnecessary tactic that could drive people away from fishing – and if there’s one thing Illinois’ hunting and fishing culture doesn’t need, it’s something driving people away.

The IDPH last week released its annual warnings, noting that it “isn’t telling anyone not to eat fish they catch in local streams and rivers,” but reminding “some people may want to be careful” about how much fish they eat from the state’s waters.

IDPH spokesperson Melanie Arnold said the report simply advises some people that eating too many wild-caught fish may not be the best for their health.

“Women who are pregnant, nursing, or of childbearing age. Babies and any child who is less than 15 years old. They’re what we consider a sensitive population,” Arnold said. “We advise that they eat no more than one meal per week of any predator fish caught in an Illinois body of water.”

The advisory puts limits on crappies, bass, catfish, walleyes and trout — but not Asian Carp.

“Illinois bodies of water, some of them have pesticides, chemicals, mercury that fish can ingest,” Arnold explained. “When a person eats the fish, they can ingest the materials as well.”

A map on the IDPH website shows individual lakes and rivers, along with the specific fish in those bodies of water that fall under the advisory. A majority of the warnings suggest that people limit their fish intake to one meal per week. Pregnant women and children are advised to limit intake to one meal per month.

And then you come across a place like Mill Creek Lake and Lincoln Trail Lake, where the IDPH advises that you “Do Not Eat” largemouth bass over 19 inches.

Among my fishing buddies around the state, the advisory seems out of place. There should be more context to the advisories, especially the “Do Not Eat” ones. Instead, what you have are would-be anglers who are afraid to even touch the fish, much less eat them.

Tucked in the IDPH media release is this: “The advisories are not meant to discourage people from eating fish, but should be used as a guideline to help anglers and their families decide the types of fish to eat, how frequently, and how to prepare fish for cooking to reduce possible contaminants,” said IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah.

Shouldn’t there also be a disclaimer aimed at catch-and-release anglers that says something like “touching fish poses no threat to fishermen?”

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