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Mercury watch in Wyoming fish

Two state agencies are advising people to watch the level of mercury in Wyoming fish they eat.

“The Fish Consumption Advisory provides recommendations on the amount and type of fish to consume to recognize the health benefits of eating fish, while limiting consumption of mercury to safe levels,” said the advisory posted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Mercury is being found in fish caught in Wyoming, but levels aren’t so high that the fish can’t be consumed in moderation.

“We don’t want people to overreact,” said Dirk Miller, Wyoming Game and Fish Department assistant fisheries division chief in Cheyenne.

Mercury occurs naturally as a mineral and is distributed throughout the environment, both naturally and from pollution, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

People should examine the information about mercury in fish and make informed decisions for themselves and their families, said Kim Deti, public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Health in Cheyenne.

Game and Fish collected fish samples from around the state and the Environmental Protection Agency is analyzing the samples, Miller said.

Mercury advisories are nothing new.

“Federal agencies have issued them for many years, as well as all other states,” said Mark Fowden, Game and Fish fisheries chief.

“Women who are pregnant, who might become pregnant, nursing mothers and children under 15 should pay special attention to the guidelines and avoid eating fish found to be high in mercury,” said Dr. Wendy Braund, state health officer and Public Health Division senior administrator with the Wyoming Department of Health. “At high levels, mercury can affect developing fetuses and the growing brains of children.”

Mothers, soon-to-be mothers and children can eat eight meals per month from trout less than 20 inches long caught from Buffalo Bill Reservoir. For other people, the consumption is unrestricted. In Yellowtail and Boysen reservoirs, the consumption guidelines are more detailed.

To determine what is recommended, consult Wyoming’s Fish Consumption Advisory, Deti said.

The state has not sampled every fish in every body of water. “But we have a lot more detail than we did a few years ago,” Deti said.

A general mercury advisory was issued in Wyoming a few years ago.

“We are offering specific mercury-related advice and information for our state now because we have more data,” Fowden said.

Mercury contamination increases as fish grow and age. “As a general rule, it is better to keep smaller fish for eating,” Fowden said. “Rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and kokanee salmon contain less mercury than species that prey primarily on other fish, such as walleye, brown trout, lake trout, catfish and burbot.”

Chronic exposure to mercury leads to nervous system, skin and kidney disorders. Signs and symptoms might include emotional disturbances such as memory loss, irritability, or depression; tremors, a pricking sensation, mouth swelling and sores, flushed and discolored skin, flaking of skin on the hands and feet and high blood pressure, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Information will be added as more data becomes available, including for bodies of water that have not yet been sampled, said the Game and Fish.

“We do not want folks to avoid fishing in Wyoming,” Braund said. “This advisory can let people know about the potential health risks and allow them to make informed decisions for themselves about eating fish.

“Fish is low in fat, high in protein and is good for your heart and brain,” said Braund said. “However, some fish contain high levels of mercury, and that can pose a genuine health risk.”

Biologists aren’t sure whether the level of mercury in Wyoming fish will increase or decrease, but the Game and Fish Department will continue to collect samples and update the advisories, Miller said.

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