Warning: Limit meals of local flounder
People should eat winter flounder caught in Raritan Bay and New York harbor waters no more than once a month because the fish may have elevated levels of chemical contamination, state Department of Environmental Protection officials said Thursday.
The announcement came as the fishing season opened for winter flounder, a traditional harbinger of spring for Shore anglers. It's the first time any flounder species has been added to the advisory for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a family of now-banned industrial chemicals believed to cause cancer.
"We've always understood from science that fatty fish were the ones to worry about," said Cynthia Zipf, executive director of the environmental group Clean Ocean Action. "If it's in the flounder we've got a significant problem and we've got to get to the source."
A General Electric-owned site on the Hudson River in New York is a source for harbor PCBs, and "it's tragic that at the same time GE is trying to stall (a cleanup) we're adding another category of fish to the list," she said.
DEP workers sampled winter flounder during 2005 as part of an effort to expand the contaminants survey to other popular recreational fish, including weakfish and porgies, said Gary Buchanan of the agency's Division of Science, Research and Technology.
"Since we started looking at fish, we concentrated on the popular sport fish with high lipids," Buchanan said. Those body fats in species like bluefish and striped bass are most likely to store PCB traces the fish consume through the food chain, scientists say.
"Flounder can have lower levels of these contaminants," and are more likely to build them up in their bodies while closer to pollution sites, Buchanan said.
Based on scientific calculations and the lower PCB levels in flounder, the once-monthly consumption limit conservatively protects health for both the general population and people at higher risk. That latter group includes infants, children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and women of childbearing age, according to DEP guidelines.