WHAT? I thought that it’s good for me to eat fish.
Generally speaking, eating fish is good for you. There are a lot of
health benefits to eating a diet that contains fish. The protein and
oils from safe fish are really great for brain and eye development of
babies and children.
But when you go fishing on the Kansas River there are some things you should be careful about. Download brochure from attachment section at the bottom of this page.
In January 2012 the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE)
and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) issued a new fish consumption advisory for the Kansas River. When you fish on the Kansas River from the Bowersock Dam in Lawrence downstream to Eudora (health advisory map)
you need to be careful because PCBs have been found in bottom-feeding
fish. There have also been advisories issued in the past for Chlordane
in bottom-feeding fish in the Kansas River, and while the level of
Chlordane has decreased in recent years it may still be a problem in
some areas of Johnson and Wyandotte counties.
KDHE recommends not eating bottom-feeding
fish from the Kansas River from Lawrence (below Bowersock Dam)
downstream to Eudora at the confluence of the Wakarusa River (Douglas
and Leavenworth counties). Bottom-feeding fish include carp, blue
catfish, channel catfish, flathead catfish, freshwater drum, bullheads,
sturgeons, buffalos, carpsuckers and other sucker species and have been
found to have high PCB levels.
Blue Catfish (Bottom-feeder)
Bottom feeding fish, like catfish, buffalo, carp, drum and sturgeon are
more likely to have high levels of harmful chemicals like
PCBs. These harmful chemicals are concentrated in the mud. Bottom
feeding fish tend to collect more of these contaminants because they
live on the bottom and they swallow a lot of mud with their food. Fatty
or oily fish will tend to collect more contaminants like PCBs,
Chlordane, pesticides and dioxin that are stored in fat.
Black Buffalo (Bottom-feeder)
There is also a national mercury advisory
from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental
(EPA) that recommends consuming no more than one
8-ounce meal per week of locally caught fish. As for now, KDHE and KDWP
have put this advisory in effect in Kansas
for sight feeding predatory fish such as largemouth bass, but not for
bottom feeding fish such as catfish. This advisory may change as more
studies are done.
Mercury comes from a number of sources, including coal burning power
plants, and is deposited on the waters surface where it is taken up by
small plants and animals living in the water. Mercury becomes more
concentrated as you go up the food chain, so the levels are highest in
predatory fish like largemouth bass, and is highest in larger fish
since they are older and have had more time to accumulate mercury.
Largemouth Bass (Sight-feeder)
Mercury is more of a problem in sight feeding fish than in
bottom-feeding fish, and it is more of a problem in lakes than in
rivers. So while PCBs and Chlordane have triggered advisories for
eating catfish and other bottom feeders in the Kansas River, mercury
has triggered advisories for eating largemouth bass and other
sight-feeders caught in lakes.
Should pregnant women and children stop eating all fish?
No. The protein and oils from safe fish are really great for brain and eye development of babies and children.
Which fish are safe for them to eat?
Pregnant women and children can eat fish caught where there are no
fishing advisories. It’s still a good idea for them to avoid eating the
most dangerous fish.
Which fish should we avoid?
Really large fish tend to be more dangerous to eat because they are
older. An old fish has had more time to collect more harmful chemicals.
It’s better to eat younger, smaller fish.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children under six years old,
teenage girls and women who could become pregnant should avoid eating
fish caught in areas with fish consumption advisories.
Why are pregnant women and children more sensitive to contaminants in fish?
Chemicals like PCBs and Chlordane are stored in your body for years.
When a woman gets pregnant, the harmful chemicals stored in her body
get passed on to her baby. Even when the chemical levels are too low to
hurt the mother, her baby can be harmed. Babies grow very fast. These
chemicals can be harmful to them either because they effect their
developing brains or because they harm their immune systems. If you are
pregnant or nursing, please consult your pediatrician if you are
worried about the effects on your baby of eating contaminated fish.
Children under six years old should not eat fish caught in areas with
health advisories because their kidneys and livers are not as efficient
as an adult’s. Since they aren’t as good at getting rid of the
contaminants they eat, harmful chemicals get more concentrated in a
small child’s body than they do in an adult. Their brains and bodies
still have a lot of growing to do. So much is built upon this early
growth that early damage can have lifelong effects on their health and
Channel Catfish (Bottom-feeder)
How can you safely prepare fish?
Chlordane, PCBs and most of the harmful chemicals found in
bottom-feeding fish from the Kansas River are stored in the fat of the
fish. Properly trimming and cooking away the fatty tissues from your
fish will cut down on the contaminants you eat;
- Trim off the back fat
- Trim off the fatty dark meet along the whole side of the fish
- Trim off the belly fat Remove the skin
- You can get rid of up to 65% of the pesticides by trimming the fish properly and broiling it to let the oils drip off
- Discard the guts and the skin
You can find a picture of how to properly trim a catfish in our brochure in the attachment section of the bottom of this page.
Unfortunately you can’t reduce the amount of mercury in the fish you
cook like you can PCBs and Chlordane. This is because mercury isn’t
concentrated in fat. Mercury is spread throughout the fish and can’t be
trimmed away. Mercury is a problem nationwide.
What can we do to help?
You can use the Sustainable Seafood Guide
for the Central US (it includes freshwater fishes) when you go to the
grocery store or a restaurant. Urge others to avoid fish and shellfish
that are not sustainably harvested or that have dangerous levels of
We must always remember that what we pour down the tap, dump in
stormdrains, or spill on the ground can make its way into the river.
Please do your part to reduce pollution and stormwater runoff.
This brochure was published by the Friends of the Kaw with funding from EPA Region 7.
Fish illustrations by Joe Tomelleri. Video by Mike Cuenca and Rich Ambler and assisted by Laura Calwell, Kansas Riverkeeper . Photograph by Mike Cuenca.
You can read more about bottom-feeders and sight-feeders in "Fishes
in Kansas" by Frank Cross and Joe Collins available online in the
Biodiversity Heritage Library at http://www.archive.org/stream/fishesinkansas00cros