Advisory suggests limits on eating fish from Delta lakes, ponds

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 27, 2001

[06/27/01] The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality issued an advisory Tuesday, warning people to limit eating some fish caught in Delta lakes and ponds, including areas in Warren County.

The advisory does not include game fish, such as bass or bream, or catfish raised in farm ponds.

Phil Bass, director of the MDEQ office of pollution control, said the advisory is for fish caught in bodies of water affected by DDT and Toxaphene. Both chemicals were used on Delta farms for years before being federally banned and have settled into the sediments of waterways in the Delta.

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The advisory spans the entire Mississippi Delta region, from the Mississippi River levee system on the west to Grenada on the east, and from the Tennessee border down to Vicksburg. Included are Eagle Lake, the Yazoo River, Sunflower River and other lakes and streams in the Delta.

“The problems are a little worse in lakes than in the rivers,” Bass said.

Carp, smallmouth buffalo, gar and large catfish are all part of the advisory. Farm-raised catfish, small- to moderate-sized catfish and largemouth bass are considered safe. People should avoid catfish that are 22 inches or longer.

The advisory says people shouldn’t eat any of the identified fish more than twice a month, Bass said.

The highest level of contamination was reported at Roebuck Lake in Leflore County where the DEQ has issued a ban on consumption of buffalo fish.

“This is the only no-consumption ban in this area,” Bass said. “This means any size buffalo fish caught in Lake Roebuck should not be eaten at all.”

Bass said most game fish are safe to eat and are not included in the advisory, which focuses mostly on bottom-feeding fish. The Mississippi River, Lake Chotard and Washington Lake are not included in the advisory.

Bass also said the levels of the two chemicals have dropped on a continuous basis as MDEQ has done sampling.

“I am optimistic that they will continue to drop,” Bass said. “We have seen a dramatic drop in the past few years. This is not a ban or a law. It is just advice, a recommendation that we hope people will heed.”

He said that the advisory will remain in effect until Delta area lakes and rivers are re-evaluated next spring.

From the days of high pesticide use, farmers now use more targeted chemicals. Delta waters were nearly depleted of game and other fish in the 1950s and 1960s, but have made a major comeback. The remaining toxins are in sediment which is why they are found in bottom-feeding fish.