TYLER, TX (KLTV) - A cast, a bite, and the hope of landing the big one lines the banks of East Texas waters. But, a new study focusing on recreational fish covering nearly 300 U.S. streams, lakes, and rivers suggests you may be reeling in more than you think. Every fish tested contained some level of mercury. With nearly a third of the fish having levels higher than what the EPA says is safe.
"The public needs to be educated in basic science," said Dr. James Koukl, a biologist at UT Tyler who studies the impact of pollutants on animals. "As we increase our population and we increase the amount of pollutants we're going to have more methyl mercury in our water supplies."
The majority of mercury enters the atmosphere from coal fired power plants and trash burning all over the world, beginning the mercury cycle.
"These mercury particles will come back down into our water, and over time will become more organic in the form of methyl mercury," explained Koukl.
The cycle continues with the tiniest water creatures eaten by small fish who end up in the bigger fish we hope end up on our hook and possibly on our plate.
"Whenever we eat a fish that's contaminated with mercury, the mercury will come into our bodies and it can be stored over time," said Dr. Janet Hurley, with Trinity Mother Frances Clinic.
Which is why pregnant women or those looking to conceive are most at risk. Once ingested mercury can cause defects in fetal development. Doctors and scientists say it's difficult to determine a set amount of fish to safe to eat, but say safety lies in moderation.
"I think it's very reasonable for people who like to eat fish to have fish a couple times a week without any concerns," said Hurley.
"If you're going out to Lake Tyler or Lake Palestine and you're catching some crappie and you're having a fish fry don't worry about it," said Koukl.
If you want to make sure you're on the safe side of fish consumption we have some tools for you. Click here to find our fish mercury levels link. There you'll a seafood consumption calculator and links to a Q & A page on eating seafood safely.