Sunday, July 19, 2009

Watching Fish

A recent reading of local environmental news finds several interesting studies about the present state of our fish life. Things appear to be going well or not so well. For example, our Great Lakes fish populations are either doing swimmingly as noted in the New York Statewide Angler Survey 2007 - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (although, given the frequent fish eating advisories, maybe that’s not entirely true) or not so swimmingly: “No sign of threat: Don't expect gov't to issue warning of dangerous fishing,” June 26, 09 NY Daily News).

Another report about our regional fish population indicates that fish are not doing so well: Up to the Gills: 2009 Update on Pollution in Great Lakes Fish which states “that levels of toxic chemicals in Great Lakes fish are alarmingly high, and are not improving.” And, as if eating fish were not enough of a worry, even playing on beach sand (Study: Digging in sand can increase health problems -- Newsday.com ) may be problematical. Not to mention, “The State of the Lakes: Still a Bummer” - Healthy Lakes - Healthy Lives “A new report by the US and Canadian Environmental Agencies finds that the Great Lakes ecosystem continues on a rapid decline due to toxic pollution and invasive species and poor sewage management.” Learn more at State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference | Great Lakes | US EPA

Certainly, much has to be qualified about implications of these reports because disparaging the fishing industry could be bad for this lucrative industry. Also sporadic and disjointed studies make concrete observations about those underwater denizens of our lakes and streams difficult. We cannot say for sure why fish populations are dropping or how various chemicals got into our fish and what it means exactly. Very hard to point fingers these days because there’s always a lawyer’s desk to hide under.

But, I think it’s safe to say that fish have not fared well since the time of Samuel de Champlain. It’s safe to say that our lakes and streams around the Rochester, NY area used to have a lot more healthy fish in the late 1500’s than they do now.

I think it is also safe to say that watching fish populations as we do birds and other wildlife is more than an avocation for enthusiasts or objects of study for Scientists. For, if our fish populations are ridden by pollutants and their numbers are dropping, we ought to be paying attention. Something is going on and cherry-picking the facts to present a cherished view or ignoring it altogether will not make this issue go away. The laws of nature don’t work that way.

I think it’s safe to say that we too are not going to be faring well if we don’t find some way to stay focused on these environmental indicators—wildlife like fish whose numbers have changed drastically in the relatively short time between Champlain and ourselves.

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