Lake trout, one of the more popular fish in Lake Michigan, are a potential health risk and should not be eaten, according to a new state advisory.
The advisory this week heightens restrictions on lake trout in the lake and worries charter captains, even though state officials say Great Lakes fish are generally getting healthier.
"You betcha" it would hurt business, said Carol Munoz, who has run the Fishtown Charter Service in Leland with her husband, Jim, for 35 years.
"This morning, I think Jim caught about 12 lake trout," she said. "It would be a serious problem if we had to avoid them."
For 2011-12, the Department of Community Health is recommending lake trout not be eaten once they hit the legal limit for Lake Michigan — 20 inches and larger. Last year, trout 22 inches and larger were considered potentially hazardous.
Advisories are enacted due to potential fish contamination. For trout in Lake Michigan, concerns are about PCBs, Chlordane — a chemical compound in long-banned pesticides — and dioxins. But state officials insist the new advisory is not an indication of a worsening problem.
"We have additional fish testing now that suggests even the shorter trout are problematic with regard to effects from contamination," said Dave Wade, director of the agency's division of environmental health.
Michigan's western shoreline cities are home to many businesses that make their living off the waters.
Charter operator Chad Bard and others know bad word of mouth on the health of Lake Michigan fish can hurt business.
Bard said he considers lake trout a "go-to" fish and always makes sure to have at least one of his 15 fishing rods on his boat rigged for trout.
"They're the ones you can always get," said Bard, captain of IT-IL-DO Charters of Grand Haven. "They're usually hanging around somewhere near the bottom and they're easier to catch."
Officials with Michigan's Department of Natural Resources stressed the advisories are nonbinding and the risks of real harm from occasionally eating lake trout are slim.
"Like many things in life, there may be risks involved. This advisory serves as a guideline, not a mandate," said Jim Dexter, acting chief of the agency's fisheries division.
Larger-scale commercial fishing operations could be hurt as well as businesses that cater to sports fishermen. A 2003 study by the Michigan Sea Grant Extension found 41.63 percent of lake trout from the Great Lakes came from Lake Michigan.
What may trouble some operations is the fact that a 26-inch lake trout caught off the shore of Leland might be considered hazardous to eat, but the same fish caught a few days later in the waters off Wisconsin would be considered problem-free.
While Michigan recommends not eating lake trout if the fish are as small as 20 inches, Wisconsin recommends not eating them only after they reach 29 inches.
It's a discrepancy not lost on health department officials.
"We're beginning to look at revising some of our advisory procedures for the coming years," Wade said. "We're trying, with this revision, to be a little more consistent regionally."
Many of the charter operations contacted Friday by The Detroit News said they were unaware of the advisory changes.
"I heard rumblings, but I didn't think it was actually going to fly," said Don Ward of Ward Brothers' Boats in Charlevoix.
Wade said the department used to do much more in the way of communicating its advisories to the public. A decade ago, the state would annually print 1.6 million brochures to be distributed at fishing stores, health departments and Woman, Infants and Children offices. But funding cuts have made that impossible.
SOURCE: Detroit News, article by Jim Lynch