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DEQ cautions the public about eating fish from Oklahoma lakes

Eating fish is generally considered a healthy food choice, but the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality cautions against eating too many fish from certain state lakes because of mercury levels found in some species. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN]

Eating fish is generally considered a healthy food choice, but the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality cautions against eating too many fish from certain state lakes because of mercury levels found in some species. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN]

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality last week issued fish consumption advisories on 14 additional lakes.

That makes 54 lakes in the state now where the agency has suggested that people should pay attention to the amount of fish they eat from those lakes.

DEQ is not saying that fish from Oklahoma lakes are not safe to eat. It's just that on some lakes, and with some species, making fish a regular portion of your meal planning could pose a health risk because of increased levels of mercury in the fish.

“We encourage people to fish,” said Erin Hatfield, DEQ's communications director. “We encourage people to eat the fish they catch because fish are part of a healthy diet, but we want people to have this information to make informed choices.”

In addition, the water is safe to swim in and as a source of drinking water, Hatfield said.

Mercury is a naturally occurring heavy metal that gets in the atmosphere through natural evaporation, such as from volcanoes and geysers, and through man-made sources, such as from coal-burning power plants.

“Your sources can be local or they can be regional or they can be global,” Hatfield said. “Volcanoes are a good example, and I know people in Oklahoma say, ‘Well, we don't have any volcanoes,' but it (mercury) gets up in the atmosphere then goes into the jet stream and comes down in rain.”

Over time, mercury builds up in lakes and in fish, and it is better to eat smaller, younger fish than larger, older fish.

Children and women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are at the greatest risk, which is why DEQ divides its fish consumption advisories into two groups: the sensitive population (children and women of child-bearing age) and the general population.

In general, the highest mercury concentrations are found in the largest predatory fish, such as largemouth bass and other types of bass, saugeye, walleye and flathead catfish. But the DEQ advisories vary greatly from lake to lake as to the amount of fish and species that should be consumed.

For example, Arcadia Lake is one of the 14 lakes added this year, but the fish consumption advisory only applies to largemouth bass in Arcadia, only to bigger bass and only to the sensitive population.

From Arcadia, DEQ recommends that children and women of child-bearing age eat no more than two meals a month of largemouth bass that are 18 inches and above.

All of the specific fish advisories for each lake can be found and downloaded in booklet form from the DEQ's website at deq.state.ok.us. In addition, any questions about mercury levels in fish can be emailed to fishadvisory@deq.ok.gov.

Along with Lake Arcadia, the other lakes added this year to the fish consumption advisory list were: Birch Reservoir, Boomer Lake, Copan Reservoir, El Reno Lake, Greenleaf Reservoir, Lone Chimney Lake, Lake McMurtry, Lake Murray, Pawnee Lake, Lake Ponca, Lake Raymond Gary, Shell Lake and Waurika Reservoir.

DEQ also updated fish consumption advisories on 16 other lakes already listed, Hatfield said. There are more than 30 Oklahoma lakes that have been tested for mercury which do not have any fish consumption advisories, she said.

The last fish consumption advisory before last week was in January 2016.

DEQ tests Oklahoma lakes and its fish for mercury levels with the assistance of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Hatfield encourages people to download the booklet and “check out the lake they are going to” before eating any fish they catch.

The fish consumption advisories are simply "a preventive measure," she said.

Related Photos
<p>A game warden holds a catfish at the "Reel A Million" fishing tournament on Lake Thunderbird last month. Predatory fish such as catfish tend to have higher levels of mercury concentration than other fish such as crappie. Smaller, younger catfish also are better to eat because they have less mercury than bigger, older catfish. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN]</p>

A game warden holds a catfish at the "Reel A Million" fishing tournament on Lake Thunderbird last month. Predatory fish such as catfish tend to have higher levels of mercury concentration than other fish such as crappie. Smaller, younger catfish also are better to eat because they have less...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c_3af5a4f2c8aa6681c8aeaa5e21d73a7c.jpg" alt="Photo - A game warden holds a catfish at the "Reel A Million" fishing tournament on Lake Thunderbird last month. Predatory fish such as catfish tend to have higher levels of mercury concentration than other fish such as crappie. Smaller, younger catfish also are better to eat because they have less mercury than bigger, older catfish. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" A game warden holds a catfish at the "Reel A Million" fishing tournament on Lake Thunderbird last month. Predatory fish such as catfish tend to have higher levels of mercury concentration than other fish such as crappie. Smaller, younger catfish also are better to eat because they have less mercury than bigger, older catfish. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> A game warden holds a catfish at the "Reel A Million" fishing tournament on Lake Thunderbird last month. Predatory fish such as catfish tend to have higher levels of mercury concentration than other fish such as crappie. Smaller, younger catfish also are better to eat because they have less mercury than bigger, older catfish. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-400039eafbe13f3d022112b36a6a039f.jpg" alt="Photo - A man fishes from the rocks at Lake Thunderbird. Fishing is a popular pastime in Oklahoma, but the state Department of Environmental Quality says people should be cognizant of the amount of fish they eat from some Oklahoma lakes. [PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" A man fishes from the rocks at Lake Thunderbird. Fishing is a popular pastime in Oklahoma, but the state Department of Environmental Quality says people should be cognizant of the amount of fish they eat from some Oklahoma lakes. [PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> A man fishes from the rocks at Lake Thunderbird. Fishing is a popular pastime in Oklahoma, but the state Department of Environmental Quality says people should be cognizant of the amount of fish they eat from some Oklahoma lakes. [PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-eed05e92a23460c1a041b1d1f81aaf11.jpg" alt="Photo - Eating fish is generally considered a healthy food choice, but the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality cautions against eating too many fish from certain state lakes because of mercury levels found in some species. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Eating fish is generally considered a healthy food choice, but the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality cautions against eating too many fish from certain state lakes because of mercury levels found in some species. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Eating fish is generally considered a healthy food choice, but the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality cautions against eating too many fish from certain state lakes because of mercury levels found in some species. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure>
Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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