Weiss Lake is known as the “Crappie Capitol of the World.” There’s even a giant crappie painted on a water tank. But eating too much of the lake’s most popular catch could be unhealthy.
The Alabama Department of Public Health recently issued its annual Fish Consumption Advisory report, which includes certain fish from Weiss Lake reservoir. The list includes consumption restrictions for black crappie, largemouth bass, blue catfish, channel catfish and striped bass. ADPH recommends eating only limited portions because of high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls.
The ADPH report breaks up Weiss Lake into three zones — the lower reservoir, the mid reservoir and the Alabama/Georgia state line area.
From the dam, including the lower reservoir to upstream of the Cedar Bluff bridge, including the mid-reservoir, black crappie should be eaten only once a week. Largemouth bass, striped bass, channel catfish and blue catfish should be eaten only once a month. Near the Georgia state line, the same advisory has been issued but does not include channel catfish or striped bass.
ADPH says one meal is equivalent to 6 ounces of cooked or 8 ounces of raw fish — a portion about the size of a deck of playing cards. For most keeper crappie in the 10-inch-plus size required on Weiss, two filets from one fish could easily make the limit.
Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, executive director and riverkeeper with the Coosa River Basin Initiative office in Rome, Georgia, said this advisory, unfortunately, is nothing new.
“It seems like these advisories have remained consistent for Weiss Lake for the last several years, which to me highlights two things,” he said.
“One, there needs to be a better outreach mechanism to communicate these advisories, especially for communities that are fishing for their families to eat," he said. "Two, this is just another prime example for our need as a society to be slower when introducing these manufactured chemicals. This stuff was actually given away by GE (General Electric) to its employees as an insecticide to use in their yards and crawl spaces.”
Documents on the ADPH website show the consumption advisory for Weiss Lake has remained the same for 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Those most at risk of experiencing health problems from eating contaminated fish are infants, children under 14, women who are pregnant or nursing, or women who may become pregnant.
“PCBs themselves have been linked to lower birth weights, premature birth and developmental issues,” Demonbreun-Chapman said. “When oxidized, PCBs can even turn into dioxin, which is one of the most toxic substances.”
According to a separate press release from ADPH, last fall the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the Tennessee Valley Authority and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources collected samples of specific fish from Alabama’s waters. ADPH issued the consumption advisory based on the results of the amount of toxins found in the fish.
Although there is a consumption advisory, ADPH says the report is only offered as guidance for people who wish to eat the fish they catch. And fish with similar feeding habits, as black crappie is to white crappie, also should be treated as having high levels of PCBs.
“The fish advisory is set up in such a fashion that it is designed to protect against chronic exposure — a lifetime of eating fish,” said John Guarisco, ADPH environmental toxicologist.
“If you grow up on Weiss Lake and eat the fish, and continue to eat the fish there, and you follow the advice given, it would be protective over your lifetime,” he said. “We understand that you are not going to eat fish every day. Essentially the advisory is to protect you over a lifetime of consumption.“
There are no consumption advisories included in this year’s report for Neely Henry Lake in Etowah County.