Some anglers miss Hudson warnings

October 29, 2008 at 11:43 pm Leave a comment

The wind had a wicked kick as it skidded across the Hudson River, then over the anglers perched along the Piermont Pier.

Among the fishermen clad in windbreakers and sweatshirts stood Mario Zamora, who kept careful watch on his lines as he waited with patience and hope to snag a striped bass for dinner.
 For Zamora, almost nothing beats the pleasure of eating a grilled striper he’s just caught from the Hudson.

“That’s the best, especially when it’s fresh,” the 36-year-old Zamora said.

Zamora, a chef by trade, has lived in Piermont nearly 20 years since arriving from El Salvador.

Back home, he said, it’s common for people to catch fish, then cook them right on the water’s edge.

No one ever worried about what the fish might contain, and Zamora still doesn’t give it much thought when he pulls his trophies from the Hudson.

“I don’t worry about it,” Zamora said.

But scientists and health experts said Zamora and others who eat Hudson River fish should be concerned because the fish often contain contaminants that can pose risks to human health.

The state Department of Health has long issued advisories regarding consumption of the fish, but surveys have also found many anglers were unaware of the notices.

To help address the problem, the Health Department has launched a 20-year effort to make people aware of the advisories and what they mean, and to encourage people to actually follow the advice.

Edward Horn, director of the Health Department’s Division of Environmental Health Assessment, said the state wants to build partnerships with communities, including nontraditional organizations, to accomplish its goals.

“We like to think of communication as a two-way street,” Horn said. “We can communicate information to the public and we can learn from them.”

The state is holding public information sessions to try to forge such partnerships, with two to take place in the Lower Hudson Valley tomorrow. Anglers, immigrant advocates, commercial fishermen, boaters, local health officials, nutritionists, food pantry representatives and others interested in developing outreach plans are invited to attend.

The Hudson River Fish Advisory Outreach Project has been launched now in anticipation of the start of the dredging project to remove PCBs from an upstate stretch of the river, Horn said.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are man-made chemicals that were dumped into the river decades ago. They have found their way into the aquatic food chain and are the main reason for most fish advisories issued by the Health Department.

PCBs and other contaminants are persistent in the environment and accumulate in fish, eels and crabs in concentrations far higher than what is found in the water in which they live.

Humans can be exposed to the contaminants when they eat the fish, but they can also reduce their exposure by limiting the amount and types of fish they eat and, in some cases, by removing fatty tissue and other parts of the animal that contain higher concentrations of contaminants.

Part of the settlement with GE, which legally dumped the PCBs, regarding the dredging includes $80,000 for the state to use to publicize the fish advisories, Horn said. The state wants to award some of that money as small grants to local community groups that will help publicize the advisories.

The Health Department issues advisories for more than 130 bodies of water in New York, but is focusing on the Hudson since the money was provided to the state in connection to the river’s dredging, Horn said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation will also play an important role in the effort.

The DEC takes samples of fish from the Hudson, then has them analyzed to keep tabs on what contaminants are being found in the fish, agency spokeswoman Maureen Wren said.

“It is very important that anglers know of efforts in place, like the consumption advisories, that help protect them and their families,” Wren said.

She said the DEC would work closely with the Health Department to identify and further educate those that fish along the Hudson.

State conservation rules require freshwater anglers to obtain a state fishing license, but no such tag is needed to fish in the Hudson south of Albany.

When anglers obtain a license, they also get a booklet listing the state’s many fish advisories. But since most of those fishing the Hudson only fish the Hudson, they don’t obtain a license and they don’t get the booklet.

Signs are posted in many fishing spots up and down the river, but some people don’t bother reading them, can’t read them or simply ignore the advisories, Horn said.

A state survey found that north of Bear Mountain, about 80 percent to 90 percent of anglers were aware of the fish advisories.

But south of Bear Mountain, only 40 percent to 50 percent had such knowledge, Horn said.

Even closer to New York City, fewer than 40 percent of anglers knew of the advisories, he said.

From Troy to the Fort Edward-Hudson Falls area, where the dredging of the PCBs will be done, all Hudson River fish that are caught must be released.

But some fish species caught south of that area, including the Lower Hudson Valley, can be taken home.

Cecilia Gutierrez, an activist in Ossining, has experience in reaching out to nontraditional communities. She has previously worked to inform Spanish-speaking residents in Ossining and Tarrytown about the dangers of consuming eels and blue crab, both of which contain contaminants, by posting fliers in public places.

Gutierrez said it is part of the lifestyle of many Hispanic families to spend time together along the river, fishing and relaxing, but also catching, then eating contaminated fish.

One way to improve things would be to reach out to Hispanics at the places they frequent, including schools and community centers, she said.

“They don’t have enough information in Spanish about what can happen to people if they consume too much of the fish, the eels and the blue crab,” Gutierrez said. “This is a very important issue.”

 By Laura Incalcaterra

LoHud.com

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Entry filed under: Get Wet, Natural Waterfront, Region. Tags: , , , , .

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