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PUBLIC MEETING ON FISH ADVISORY AT PLSP…COMMUNITY SEEKS ANSWERS
By Steve McCadams
Recent postings of fish advisory signs by Tennessee Department of
Environment and Conservation along the Big Sandy embayment portion of
Kentucky Lake have the region buzzing. Property owners, anglers,
businesses and various tourist related entities have concerns and
News of a warning not to eat bass from these popular fishing waters have
shocked most who yearn to know more about why contaminants---in this
case high levels of mercury---have been discovered and for the first
time in this area merit the warning of increased risks of cancer or
other serious illnesses in humans.
Signs warn that fish---bass in this case---should not be eaten by
children, pregnant or nursing women. All others, says the sign, should
limit consumption to one meal per month.
Most people aren’t quite sure what to make of it all. Hats have been
removed. Heads have been scratched. Puzzled looks are the norm.
Nowhere on the sign offers readers a phone number or other contact
information in the event they want to know more.
How long will the advisory last? What can be done? What are the long
range effects for the area?
Apparently the level of confusion and concerned has gotten the attention
of several local officials and legislators. The whole saga has
stimulated a public meeting planned for Monday night at Paris Landing
State Park Inn. It begins at 6 p.m.
Anyone with questions or an interest as to what’s going on with this
recent fish advisory is encouraged to attend. Tennessee Department of
Environment and Conservation will make a presentation on the matter at
Several questions have emerged since this column appeared last week and
helped inform the public about the ongoing saga.
Information received from TDEC after last week’s column went to press
has helped answer some questions, although several remain. More details
of just how many fish were sampled to arrive at the warning remain
unanswered and the signs did not make mention of other species such as
crappie and bluegill.
A lengthy report received in an email titled: “Frequently Asked
Questions About Mercury and Fish Tissue Advisories”, which is posted at
according to Eric Ward, Deputy Communications Director, is one place to
gather some information.
Unfortunately, everyone concerned about this shocking news doesn’t
necessarily have computer access or is internet savvy.
Some interesting information contained says both crappie and bluegill
are not under the advisory. Somewhat troubling, however, is the finding
within the report that fish in West Sandy creek (the area behind the
levee known locally as Springville bottom) has not been tested!
Springville bottom is a very popular fishing area at times when water
levels permit. Anglers will no doubt want to ask why it has not been
tested? Meanwhile, other portions of Kentucky Lake are not under the
advisory and the northern boundary of the advisory stops at a line
running from Pace Point into Big Eagle Recreation Area, referred to
locally as Pine Point in Eagle Creek.
Here are a few findings also in the report but are only a small summary:
Why bass? Bass species are predator fish at the top of the aquatic food
chain, so mercury tends to biomagnify (build up at higher levels) in
them. Also, because mercury tends to accumulate in muscle tissue rather
than in fat, as is the case with organic compounds such as PCBs, they
tend to accumulate in greater concentrations in the more muscular
gamefish rather than the fattier rough fish or catfish.
For the same reason, some of the conventional wisdom concerning ways to
reduce the contaminant levels in fish by broiling the catch or by
removing as much fat as possible, are not effective with mercury.
The advisory was about eating fish. Do other activities on this body of
water carry risk from mercury?
These advisories pertain only to fish consumption, says TDEC. Swimming,
boating, wading, or catch and release fishing from these waters carries
no risk. Tap water from approved providers does not contain mercury.
To learn more---and there is more to learn---about this recent discovery
and troubling news tell your friends and neighbors to attend Monday
night’s meeting and perhaps gain a better perception of what the present
and future holds.
ADVISORY POSTED ON BIG SANDY HAS PUBLIC FISHING FOR ANSWERS…
Signs erected last week at several public boat ramps within the Big Sandy
River portion of Kentucky Lake by Tennessee Department of Environment and
Conservation are sending shock waves to a concerned and confused public.
The signs read: “Warning! Bass from this body of water contain
contaminants at levels thought to increase the risk of cancer or other
serious illness in humans. These fish should NOT be eaten by children,
pregnant or nursing women. All others should limit consumption to one meal
Alarming news like this has locals wondering what’s up? Why has the
dramatic warning been so quiet in coming from a public state agency? Why
have public meetings not been held to announce the findings and better
inform the public of the situation at hand?
These questions and more are on the minds of folks who are just now
hearing about the posting of the alarming signs. If state, county and
local officials knew ahead of time about the forthcoming announcement why
has more attention not been given to the public via various media outlets?
The news has long-range rippling effects to a wide variety of lake
dwellers, recreational anglers, real estate agencies, tourism promotion,
marinas, resorts, campgrounds and more. Once the word gets out the area
has a chemical pollution problem---in this case high levels of
mercury---based on TDEC sampling the fires of confusion and
misinformation, fueled by concern, are very hard to put out.
A grocery list of questions began spinning in the heads of folks upon
hearing the news and starring at the signs that, once read, beg more of
the source of the problem and a solution to the dilemma.
TDEC’s news release dated January 19, which this writer received second
hand, reads in part:
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation today announced
the addition of Big Sandy River and its embayment on Kentucky Reservoir to
Tennessee’s list of precautionary fish consumption advisories. The
advisory is a result of fish tissue levels of mercury that exceed the
trigger point of 0.3 parts per million, and is only in effect for species
of bass. The Big Sandy River is in Henry, Benton, Carroll, and Henderson
counties of West Tennessee.
“Unlike ‘do not consume’ advisories that warn the general population to
avoid eating fish from a particular body of water altogether,
precautionary fish consumption advisories are specifically directed to
sensitive populations such as children, pregnant women, nursing mothers
and those who may eat fish very frequently from the same body of water,”
said Dr. Shari Meghreblian, TDEC deputy commissioner. “Children and
pregnant or nursing mothers should avoid eating fish covered by the
advisory. All others are cautioned to limit consumption to one meal per
In 2007 and again in 2009, the department issued new mercury advisories in
Tennessee based on a more stringent EPA trigger point recommended to
states. At that time, TDEC identified additional sites where more data was
needed. One of these sites was Big Sandy River, and in 2009, 2012, 2013,
and 2014, TDEC collected additional fish tissue samples.
“The new Big Sandy advisory is for the river in its entirety, including
its embayment on the Tennessee River,” Meghreblian said. “Mercury levels
in Tennessee River fish (Kentucky Reservoir) are lower and the lake is not
included in the advisory. Additionally, the advisory is limited to bass
species such as largemouth and spotted bass. Popular gamefish such as
crappie and bluegill are not included in the advisory as mercury levels in
these fish tend to be much lower statewide.”
There is no known direct discharge of mercury into the Big Sandy River.
Atmospheric deposition accumulated in sediment is considered the most
likely origin of the mercury in the fish. Tributaries of the Big Sandy
River tend to be small and as they are unlikely to contain a significant
fishery, they have not been tested and are not included in the advisory.
The waters adjacent to Paris Landing State Park plus the nearby Eagle
Creek embayment are connected to the Tennessee River rather than Big Sandy
embayment and are not included in the advisory.
“Eating fish with elevated levels of mercury is a risk Tennesseans can
avoid,” said Division of Water Resources Director Tisha Calabrese-Benton.
“Fishing advisories give fishermen and their families the information they
need to make informed decisions about limiting their intake or avoiding
fish from specific stream segments or bodies of water.”
The risk, however, is confined to the consumption of fish. Swimming and
wading in these waters or catching and releasing fish are activities that
do not expose the public to an increased risk from mercury.
TDEC has posted signs at primary public access points and will continue to
communicate information about the fishing advisories.
Having read the news release and observed sigh postings the public seems
to have a yearning for more information as to the long-term ramifications.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency conducts stream sampling throughout
the year in tributary creeks and streams within the Big Sandy watershed,
which originates way back up in Carroll and Henderson counties before
meandering its path into Kentucky Lake at the big culverts within the city
limits of the town of Big Sandy itself.
However, TWRA has not reported red flags over the years from their benthic
sampling and it would be interesting to know if their sampling mirrored
TDEC’s alarming discovery. How much communication exits between these two
More questions should be answered, however, so the local area and region
can gain a better understanding of the matters at hand. Officials,
biologists and spinners of public relations at any level within state or
local governments best not underestimate the totality of this finding and
better explain what’s going on in a series of public meetings to a public
just now learning about the saga emerging at their front door.
The Kentucky Lake area is a beautiful gem and a magnet to a growing
retirement community and recreational wonderland. Tourism here is an
industry in and of itself, generating millions of dollars while creating
jobs associated with it.
Somebody better wake up and better address this scenario. The rippling
effects of news like this has far reaching implications both now and well
into the future.