Do you fish in the Cahaba? Here’s what you need to know about where fish is unsafe to eat in 2021.
Are fish from the Cahaba River safe to eat?
In July, the Alabama Department of Public Health released its annual fish consumption advisories, a list of the state’s recommended limits on eating different types of fish found in Alabama’s rivers and streams.
The list is based on data collected last fall through the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. It’s based on 492 samples of specific fish from 41 collection stations.
The department catches and tests certain types of fish and then issues advisories to anglers not to eat fish or limit consumption of fish that are contaminated with dangerous pollutants.
Three of these advisories occurred in the Cahaba River, and all of these advisories were due to mercury, an airborne pollutant caused by the burning of fossil fuels, as is done by coal-fired power plants, and the burning of waste.
Fishing is a popular activity along the Cahaba and its tributaries, and many anglers rely on this food source to supplement their family’s diet. These people deserve to be able to rely on the fact that the fish they are eating are safe. Right now, it is unlikely that consuming fish from the Cahaba River more than one time per month is safe. In some places on the Cahaba, the Alabama Department of Public Health recommend not eating any fish.
Until more widespread monitoring shows that most areas of the Cahaba are safe in this regard, we discourage people from eating spotted bass from the Cahaba River.
Here are the 2021 fish consumption advisories for the Cahaba River:
|Area||Species of Fish||Advisory||Pollutant|
|AL Highway 219 (Bibb County)||Spotted Bass||No more than 2 meals/month||Mercury|
|AL Highway 183 (Perry County)||Spotted Bass||Do not eat any||Mercury|
|Lake Purdy Reservoir||Largemouth Bass||No more than 1 meal/month||Mercury|
During the Fall of 2020, 522 samples were taken at 46 collection stations. The samples were collected by the Alabama Dept. of Environmental Management (ADEM), the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The State Health Dept. then analyzed results to determine if contaminants in the fish may be harmful to humans. Those contaminants include PCB’s and mercury.
Fish consumption advisories are issued for specific bodies of water and specific fish species taken from those areas.
The advisory has guidance on the safe number of meals of that species of fish that can be eaten in a given period of time, such as meals per week, meals per month or do not eat any. A meal portion consists of 6 ounces of cooked fish or 8 ounces of raw fish.
The advice in the release and complete listings of the posted fish consumption advisories are offered as guidance to individuals who wish to eat fish they catch from various water bodies throughout the state. If a species is listed in the advisory, ADPH says it is prudent to assume that similar species with similar feeding habits should be consumed with caution. For example, if black crappie is listed and white crappie is not, because they are in the same family, all crappie would fall under the listed advisory.
Fish consumption advisories for the Cahaba River have increased in recent years. In 2016 and 2017, none of the Cahaba sampling locations detected mercury problems. In the 2018, 2019, and 2020 Fish Consumption Advisories, THREE of FOUR sampling locations detected enough mercury to warrant limitations on consumption. Since the mercury is airborne, and most of the sampling sites evaluated from the Cahaba show excessive mercury levels, it is likely that the excessive mercury deposition extends beyond those areas which have actually been tested.
Based on those results, we recommend not eating Spotted Bass from the Cahaba River.
Here is why:
There are only four locations along the entire length of the Cahaba where fish tissue is monitored, while our neighboring Black Warrior River is monitored in over twice as many locations per square mile. Given the widespread air deposition source of the mercury, we think it would be prudent for the Alabama Department of Public Health to consider extending the fish consumption advisory to the entire Cahaba River until more extensive fish-tissue sampling can show that the mercury contamination is not more widespread. It follows that we interpret these results to indicate that spotted bass from the entire Cahaba basin should not be consumed.
Fishing is a popular activity along the Cahaba and its tributaries, and many anglers rely on this food source to supplement their family’s diet. These people deserve to be able to rely on the fact that the fish they are eating are safe. Right now, it is unlikely that consuming fish from the Cahaba River more than one time per month is safe. Until more widespread monitoring shows that most areas of the Cahaba are safe in this regard, we discourage people from eating any spotted bass from the Cahaba River.
The Alabama Public Health Department’s 2021 Fish Consumption Advisory is available here.
It includes suggestions on fish preparation and cooking to minimize the risk of consuming toxic substances from fish.
Click on the map below or click here to see a map of the areas affected by fish consumption advisories in 2019.
Our partners at Waterkeepers Alabama have updated their popular FISH GUIDE program to include the 2021 advisories.
FISH GUIDE was developed over several years as a response to surveys conducted with more than 125+ fishermen on the Coosa River to educate fishermen throughout the state and alert them to the fish consumption advisories in their watershed. In addition to providing fishermen with supplementary information about the fish consumption advisories each year, the program also features a toll-free hotline for fishermen to immediately hear the advisories throughout the State. That hotline has now been updated with the 2019 advisories.
Anglers can simply call 1 844-219-RISK to hear the current fish consumption advisories on all the water bodies throughout Alabama. Press 7 to hear consumption advisories specific to the Cahaba.
“Anglers shouldn’t have to worry about whether the fish they catch are safe to eat or not, but unfortunately they do,” said Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper. “Mercury from coal emitted by Alabama Power Company’s coal-fired power plants across the state has caused unsafe levels of mercury to build up in fish tissue. Sadly, that means bass and catfish from numerous popular fishing lakes are unsafe to eat, especially for pregnant women.”
Families interested in learning more about fish consumption advisories can review the Waterkeepers Alabama interactive map online that includes the updated advisory information at WaterkeepersAlabama.org/Fish. Not everyone has access to the internet, so the group offers a toll-free hotline for anglers to immediately hear the advisories throughout Alabama. The statewide hotline has been updated so you can hear the 2021 advisories. Anglers can simply call 1 844-219-7475 to hear the current fish consumption advisories on all the waterbodies throughout Alabama. Dial 6 to hear the advisories in the Black Warrior River watershed.
To learn more about the toxins in our fish and waterways, please visit WaterkeepersAlabama.org/Fish.