Legislators work to reduce toxic mercury threat as anglers prepare for fishing opener

MADISON — As anglers across the state gather their rods, reels, and tackle boxes for the much-anticipated fishing opener this weekend, legislators in the capitol gather support for a bill intended to address an invisible but persistent threat lurking in Wisconsin waters – toxic mercury in fish.

“This weekend, thousands of anglers will come home to cook the season’s first catch, completely unaware of the risk eating fish from Wisconsin waters poses to themselves and their families,” said Amber Meyer Smith, program director at Clean Wisconsin the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “It’s a sad fact that we must question the safety of eating fish in a state with such a rich fishing tradition.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources currently lists every inland body of water in Wisconsin under a fish consumption advisory as a result of mercury contamination. Chronic exposure to mercury results in memory loss, speech difficulties, troubles with vision, and cardiovascular problems in adults. Children and the unborn exposed to mercury can face neurological damage that impairs development, leads to low intelligence and inhibits school performance.

Mercury enters Wisconsin waters from coal plant pollution or from household and industrial products such as toys, games, jewelry, perfumes, cosmetics and switches. A law passed in 2008 will help substantially reduce mercury pollution derived from coal plants, but does not address the 6,600 pounds of mercury that enter Wisconsin waters each year through household and industrial products. A bill currently being circulated the Capitol by Senator Jauch and Representative Danou would help reduce mercury pollution in Wisconsin waters by prohibiting the sale of some non-essential products that still contain mercury.

“Our store relies on Wisconsin’s clean lakes, rivers and streams and the thousands of tourists who come to visit them every year,” said Mitch Mode, owner of Mel’s Trading Post, the Northwoods’ largest sporting goods store founded in Rhinelander in 1946. “Protecting Wisconsin waters from mercury pollution protects our economy and our way of life.”

The fishing industry in Wisconsin is a powerful economic driver. The DNR estimates that it brings $2.3 billion of revenue to the state and directly employs more than 25,000 individuals.

“Protecting Wisconsin’s fishing tradition by reducing mercury pollution is important for our health, our economy, and our culture,” said Smith. “In a state where the opening of fishing season is widely celebrated as a holiday, we cannot afford inaction when our waters are at risk.”