Greenspace: Want to eat that fish? Check the guide first
The inland fishing season kicks off next Saturday. Walleye, northern pike, small- and largemouth bass are some of the species that can be harvested beginning May 11 through Feb. 23.
For people interested in more than catch-and-release, fish are a good source of protein and beneficial fats that can reduce the risk for heart disease and can help fetal development for pregnant women.
However, fish also can carry contaminants from the water they’re in. Even if the water appears to be clean, it might harbor pollution or bacteria that could make its way into the fish living in it.
That doesn’t mean it’s a crap(pie) shoot whether the fish you catch are good for eating. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources teamed with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to offer online fish consumption guidelines.
The DNR collects fish from more than 1,400 lakes, rivers and streams for testing every year. The guidelines list fish species by water body and exposure risk for different categories of people.
Anglers can look up site-specific advice that applies to the water they’re fishing at www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/fish/eating/sitespecific.html.
Mercury is the most common pollutant found in fish. Most fish tested from Minnesota lakes have been found to have some mercury. PCBs are found mainly in Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. Perfluorochemicals have also been found in some fish in Minnesota. These guidelines are based on the contaminant level measured in fillets.
Restriction guidelines include suggestions for how frequently some species of fish are eaten and size restrictions. For some species, contaminants can build up in time. An older, larger fish can have a higher concentration of pollutants.
So why not think small?
Although some fish carry size limits, DNR encourage people to keep smaller specimens of bluegill, also known as sunfish.
“We encourage anglers to keep sunfish under 7 inches and consider releasing the ones 9 inches or larger,” Jon Hansen, fisheries management consultant, said in a DNR-released statement. “This is opposite what many anglers grew up hearing but it’s good news for anyone who wants high odds of bringing home a meal of local, healthy food.”
Small bluegill are plentiful in Minnesota waters and are easier to catch than large ones. Unlike other species, keeping the small ones has little impact on population. Most large bluegill are males guarding nests. When people harvest too many large bluegill, the smaller males remaining in the population don’t have any need to compete with larger males to spawn. Instead of growing, the small males then devote their energy to spawning at younger ages. Keeping smaller bluegill actually helps the species thrive.