Something Fishy

Four finned feasts to fork with caution.

By Alexandra Notman September 15, 2010 Published in the October 2010 issue of Seattle Met

DAVE MCBRIDE KNOWS his fish. As the “fish guy” at the Washington State Department of Health, the toxicologist can talk sockeye and chinook and mercury levels like a Cousteau without spoiling your appetite. When the state department of ecology announced this past summer that our local waters are unusually contaminated with toxins—and may affect freshwater creatures prized by fishing and crabbing enthusiasts—we caught up with the gill whisperer to get him to dish on, well, what could end up on your dish.

Chinook Blackmouth Salmon
October marks the splashy return of the chinook blackmouth to Washington, but, says McBride, the fish tend to congregate in Puget Sound rather than continue on to the ocean, allowing for the buildup of contaminants. Eat no more than two chinook blackmouth meals a month. Have a hankering for more? Coho, chum, pink, and sockeye salmon are healthy alternatives.

Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass
The only fish under a statewide advisory has been making waves since 2003, when a report found elevated amounts of mercury. Pregnant women and children have long been advised to stay away from fish with high levels of mercury, like tuna—the element can cause learning and behavioral disabilities, and studies have shown a link to leukemia. Don’t consume more than two bad-ass bass meals a month.

Puget Sound English Sole
The right-eyed flatfish also known as lemon sole has tested positive for high levels of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which can cause learning disabilities and immune system deficiencies in children. The chemicals, McBride explains, were once commonly used in coolants and lubricants for transformers. “Over time, there were leaks and spills” that seeped into Washington’s waterways. Eat no more than one to two English sole meals a month from area waters.

The DOH advises eating Dungeness and red rock crab from nonurban areas only. McBride has some other don’ts: Don’t eat crab butter (contaminants are often lodged in fat). Don’t eat or harvest Port Angeles clams or crabs, Lower Columbia River freshwater clams, and all Lower Duwamish Waterway and Puget Sound shellfish. Finally, don’t have an immaculate crab feast without inviting Dave McBride over for dinner… Nah! He didn’t really say that.

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