centuries, fish were an important part of the American Indian diet.
Today, with mercury raining down from coal-burning power plants,
eating too much can cause irreversible harm.
help prevent that, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has
awarded the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission a $445,830
grant to create a culturally sensitive program to reduce the risk
of eating mercury-contaminated fish.
Great Lakes commission and the Midwest Center for Environmental
Science and Public Policy will use the three-year grant to improve
methods of warning Wisconsin's Ojibwe about the dangers of mercury
while encouraging them to continue fishing.
is a byproduct from burning coal at power plants. In water, bacteria
convert mercury to a more toxic form, methyl mercury, which accumulates
in fish. Eating too much mercury-laden fish could damage kidneys
and the nervous system.
risk varies with the concentration of mercury and with how much,
and what kind, of fish a person eats.
many fish in Wisconsin have concentrations of mercury high enough
to pose risk to developing fetuses and young children," said
toxicologist Jeffrey Foran, president of the Midwest Center for
Environmental Science and Public Policy.
commission comprises 11 Ojibwe bands in Wisconsin, Minnesota and
Michigan. While the project is focused primarily in Wisconsin, the
commission also plans to test fish from lakes in Minnesota and Michigan.
commission has tested fish for mercury for 16 years. The commission
produces color-coded maps illustrating where mercury levels are
safe and unsafe.
want to evaluate how that map is being used," said the commission's
biological services director Neil Kmiecik. "Based upon the
feedback we get from a survey that we will do, we will re-evaluate
our intervention program."
remain an important part of the diet of tribal members, especially
in the spring, Kmiecik said. The commission is finishing a five-year
study to determine how much fish tribal members eat.
some areas, the cultural importance of fishing may clash with consumption
advisories, Foran said, "so the challenge is to determine how
we can best reduce exposure, perhaps through shifts to fish that
are less contaminated, harvesting in lakes where there are lower
levels of contaminates while still encouraging the traditional tribal
activities of harvesting and consuming fish."
Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission
The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife
Commission (GLIFWC) is an inter-tribal, co-management agency committed
to the implementation of off-reservation treaty rights on behalf
of its eleven Ojibwe member tribes. Formed in 1984 and exercising
authority specifically delegated by its member tribes, GLIFWC's
mission is to help ensure significant, off-reservation harvests
while protecting the resources for generations to come.