Ed Killer Treasure Coast Newspapers
Published 4:02 PM EDT Jun 13, 2019
When was the last time you enjoyed a catfish dinner?
Personally, I love fried catfish. Put it on my plate alongside the grits, hush puppies and string beans.
Growing up on Florida’s Treasure Coast, I remember when restaurants had one night a week designated for “All-U-Can-Eat” catfish. Fried catfish is a down home Southern delicacy.
Findings this week may make all of us think twice about that next catfish dinner — or a fish dinner of any kind. It’s time to consider where our seafood comes from.
Lake Okeechobee discharges
There is a nexus taking place in Florida waters.
Lake Okeechobee, laden with nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, is again fostering what is becoming an annual bloom of toxic algae. Meanwhile, commercial fishermen are busy harvesting catches of catfish, bream and tilapia from these same algae-laden waters.
More: Blue-green algae bloom found on Lake O
So we’re actively harvesting and selling fish caught from waters we know to be harmful to human recreational contact. This has bad idea written all over it.
Consider this: Scientists have learned this blue-green algae on the lake, cyanobacteria, contains an amino acid called BMAA for short. It is a neurotoxin linked to diseases such as:
- Lou Gehrig’s
- Lewy body dementia
- Nonalcoholic liver disease
- Progressive supranuclear palsy
Some warnings have been issued for recreational contact and swimming (the alligators will prevent that for most). However, few warnings have been posted with respect to eating fish out of the lake.
More: OSU study finds striking cluster on Treasure Coast
More: BMAA found in dead lagoon dolphins
The Florida Department of Health advises against it, according to its website.
“Fish tested from water with blue-green algae show that cyanotoxins don’t accumulate much in the edible parts — muscle or fillet — of fish, but can in other organs,” its website says. “The safest choice is to not harvest or eat these fish.”
To find this piece of information requires a lot of searching, then scrolling to the bottom of a page. I’m not sure how many of us would find it before sitting down at the dinner table.
Fish. It’s what’s for dinner
There is a potential larger-scale problem here. People catch fish for dinner from waters like Lake Okeechobee and those connected to it. People also buy fish from seafood markets and restaurants that are selling fish caught in the lake.
More: Audubon biologist says don’t eat the fish
How much? According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the average numbers from the past few years are eye-popping:
- 1.2 million pounds of catfish
- 180,000 pounds of bream (bluegill, warmouth and redear sunfish)
- 275,000 pounds of tilapia
That is a lot of fish. In 2016, one of the lake’s worst years in terms of widespread toxic algae in its waters, commercial harvesters caught nearly 2 million pounds of fish combined. All that seafood entered the food supply.
I’m sensitive to the economic impact a ban on fishing for food has. I don’t want to cost anyone his or her job. But something needs to be done here.
More: Can’t wait to see what Ed Killer pops off about next?
Will the governor’s new Blue-Green Algae Task Force address this? Should the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission take this matter up for review? Should the Department of Health issue a warning at every seafood seller and restaurant in Florida? Or would this be a task for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services?
“Fresh caught Lake Okeechobee catfish” is a slogan restaurants and markets everywhere use to hook customers. But until the waters are clean, it may be time to suspend the slogan, and fishing for dinner from a poisoned lake.
After all, our lives may depend on it.
Ed Killer is the outdoors columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers and TCPalm.com, and this column reflects his opinion. Friend him on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at [email protected] or call him at 772-221-4201.
- 5 top places to eat fish and chips in Weston super Mare
- Inside John Terry’s booming property empire of 4 mansions, including £16m house with £150k astro turf golf course and fishing lakes
- California Approves The Eating Of Dungeness Crab Again, Saying It’s Safer Now
- Real Salt Lake players, coaches say it’s too early to worry about team’s low attacking numbers
- Fishing report for week of March 27-April 3: Pine Flat and Millerton bass bites best
- Success is no accident for Lake Park's Rogers
- Fishing report for week of Jan. 9-15
- Fishing report for week of Feb. 20-26: Pine Flat and Eastman bass hitting
- Fishing report for week of Nov. 14-20
- Fishing report for week of Dec. 5-11