Lake Michigan is the 6th largest fresh water lake in the world, meaning there is an abundance of fish waiting to be caught and consumed. The long stretches of lake shore are prime areas to fish and catch dinner, but one must first be aware of the threats eating these fish can pose.
The fish in Lake Michigan can contain a variety of chemicals toxic to humans if consumed in large quantities such as: Selenium, Toxaphene, Mercury, DDT and PCBs. These chemicals can damage the immune system, inhibit brain development of young children and have been linked to cancer and diabetes. Selenium and Mercury are both naturally occurring elements and impossible completely remove from the environment. On the other hand Toxaphene, DDT are not naturally occurring. Toxaphene and DDT are both a form of insecticide used for farming and agriculture purposes. Due to water runoff these chemicals find there way into our water and food sources, including Lake Michigan. PCBs are a whole different story and although they are organic they are still harmful to the environment in large quantities. Widely used as a coolant for machinery, PCBs were being dumped into Lake Michigan before any regulations were in place. In 1979 PCBs were banned altogether once its adverse effects on the environment were discovered.
Luckily PCB levels in recent years have been on the decline and although they take a while to break down things look bright. The chart below demonstrates how levels are expected to drop significantly in years to come and all we do is have to do is wait. More laws still need to be put in place to further prevent harmful chemicals from leaching into Lake Michigan and contaminating the fish. Educating the public is also necessary because fishermen and people who are consuming fish from Lake Michigan need to know what is and is not safe to eat. There are many guidelines to show how to properly cut a fish to limit consumption and how often one should consume certain types.
While contaminants will take many years to decline, fish farms are a sustainable option. These fish farms can be used in conjunction with urban farms to create a symbiotic relationship. The fish will bring nutrients to the plants through their water and in turn it will be filtered through the plants and brought back the the fish clean.
Most Lake Michigan fish are not detrimental to ones health unless they are eaten in mass quantities and for decent periods of time. Everything in moderation, but be sure to check the Eat Safe Fish Guide at www.michigan.gov/eatsafefish