Louisiana residents with a penchant for Mississippi River fishing can skip the trip to the grocery store for their fries next Friday, because the experts have spoken: there’s no way eating caught catfish in the river makes you glow in the dark.
It was one of the scenarios that reader Nancy Larraine recently imagined after seeing people fishing in the river. Larraine said she doesn’t fish, but she was curious if catfish caught in Mississippi are safe to eat.
The simple answer is yes.
In fact, unless there’s a state-issued health advisory for a specific area, “the risks are very low for health effects,” said Charles Miller III, acting chairman of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. .
But what about water contamination?
According to Miller, there are indeed thousands of chemicals classified as contaminants in the river. But, at least in Crescent City, “contaminants are being diluted by the average 600,000 cubic feet of water that flows through New Orleans every second,” Miller said.
“That’s a lot of water,” he added.
This high dilution helps keep the level of contaminants in the Mississippi River “very low and generally safe,” he said. Catfish swimming in the river are therefore not swimming in extremely contaminated water.
Of course, Frank Jordan, professor of biology at Loyola University in New Orleans, said that “it’s almost impossible to find an adult catfish that doesn’t contain some level of contamination.” This is due to biomagnification, the process by which substances such as toxins accumulate in organisms at each stage of the food chain.
Although catfish are omnivores, their diet includes many other fish, which puts them at the top of their respective food chains, according to Jordan.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and other state and federal agencies monitor water quality and sample fish tissue for contaminants and issue consumption advisories if necessary, Jordan said. And tests show that the levels of contamination in Mississippi River catfish do not make the fish unsafe.
Should I take any precautions?
Jordan and Miller said to treat catfish caught in the river like any other fish or seafood. That means cleaning them carefully and cooking them thoroughly.
If people are concerned, “consider avoiding very large, older catfish which are likely to have higher concentrations of contaminants than smaller, younger individuals,” Jordan said.
He added: “When in doubt, consume fish in moderation.”
Although our experts say Mississippi catfish are not dangerous, there are currently fish consumption advisories for several rivers on the North Shore and the Pearl River, primarily for mercury contamination. More information is available on the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality website at www.deq.louisiana.gov.
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