Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fish Dinners

Last night, I enjoyed a dinner of halibut in a white wine/tomato sauce--a belated Valentine's Day dinner. As I think about it, some of my most memorable meals over the years have involved fish or seafood. Smoked salmon, grilled trout, steamed mussels, clam chowder, sushi--all would make the short list of favorite foods. Like millions of people around the world, I love eating these meals that are both nutritious and delicious.

But eating fish and seafood is also increasingly complicated.

Our oceans are in trouble--more than 40% heavily affected by human activities. Unsustainable fisheries contribute to the damage. What was once an abundant food source has become imperiled--turning a once-pleasant trip to the seafood counter into a smorgasbord of ethical dilemmas. (Fortunately, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program can help you make the best choices on your next shopping trip).

It's not only marine fish. Our freshwater streams and rivers demonstrate that pollutants in the air and water don't follow political boundaries. Last week, The Nature Conservancy sent a letter to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality asking to determine the source of mercury in Silver Creek. This followed a study that found some brown trout in the creek--known for its crystal-clear waters--had mercury levels as much as four times higher than what is recommended for consumption by infants and pregnant women. DEQ subsequently issued a health advisory for consumption of fish caught in Silver Creek (while the preserve is strictly a catch-and-release fishery, downstream of the preserve anglers may harvest brown trout).

While the source of the mercury is not yet known, it is likely coming from the air from sources outside Silver Creek.

Throughout southern Idaho, other waterways and rivers now have health advisories on fish consumption due to high levels of mercury.

As Mark Johnson of KTVB-NBC in Boise said during his station's newscast of the Silver Creek health advisory, Idahoans take pride in our clean, pure water. We still have those beautiful spring creeks full of rising trout, the rivers where salmon still return to spawn, the breathtaking rivers that provide so much for our lives. But even here, toxins like mercury have become a part of our watersheds.

For millenia, our rivers, streams, lakes and oceans have provided for humanity. In Idaho, incredible salmon runs once fed numerous cultures. In the eastern United States, at the time of the Revolutionary War, the Susquehanna River employed literally thousands of people who caught shad for the market (today, shad are almost extinct in the watershed). More recently, many of us have cherished memories of catching some fish for dinner.

Our waters can still provide. But as a society we have to make clean air, clean water and healthy streams, rivers and oceans a priority. Our waters can still sustain large populations of fish, and in turn provide those healthy, nutritious, memorable meals. But only if we care. Working together, we can find solutions to these daunting challenges, so that a fish dinner and clean water remain not a luxury, but a part of our human heritage. --Matt Miller

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