By JOEL ESKOVITZ, [email protected]
WASHINGTON — Seeking to highlight the increasing dangers of mercury pollution to the fishing industry, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group released a study Thursday that shows Florida's waters are under more fish consumption advisories than ever before.
The study, entitled "Fishing for Trouble," is particularly troubling for Florida, where more money — $4 billion — is spent on recreational fishing than any other state in the country, said Holly Binns of Florida Public Interest Research Group.
"We have a lot to lose," she said. "More so than most other states."
Florida is one of four states that has a blanket fish consumption advisory for mercury for all its inland lakes and rivers along with the entire coastline.
In Southwest Florida, more specific warnings are geared toward gar, bowfin and largemouth bass in Lake Trafford and spotted sea trout, Spanish mackerel and Crevalle jack in Charlotte Harbor.
Mercury, which is most heavily emitted from power plants, can lead to neurological damage, especially in children. It has also been linked to birth defects and learning disabilities in children who have been exposed to low levels of the pollutant inside the womb.
The consumer group timed the release of the study around a recent push by President Bush to pass his Clear Skies Initiative, which environmentalists believe does not go far enough to reduce mercury emissions. Power plants have countered, saying it would be too costly to reduce the level of their emissions to the levels Bush is seeking.
Bob Jones, executive director for the 500-member Southeastern Fisheries Association, is pushing for higher mercury emissions standards but also wants to make sure the public does not become overly frightened that all fish will suddenly become unhealthy for consumption.
"Mercury has been around in the environment ever since there's been an environment. It's naturally occurring," he said. "But you don't need to be putting manmade mercury into the environment if you can stop it."
Jones said it would be difficult to put a dollar figure on the effect mercury warnings have on the fishing industry but said it does have a devastating impact, especially when new advisories or studies are released.
"Every time there is a mercury scare, you can feel a dip," he said.
Other findings from the study include:
n More than 2 million acres of Florida's lakes, 51,000 miles of the state's rivers and its entire coastline were under a mercury consumption advisory in 2002.
n The state has seen an increase of 984 percent in lake acres and 2,514 percent of river miles under mercury advisory since a similar study in May 2000.
n The warnings for the coastline were focused on three types of fish, which are more likely to have some mercury because of their size: swordfish, shark greater than 43 inches and king mackerel greater than 39 inches.