When I was a kid in the '50s, my dad and uncle were very much into the seasonal outdoor activities ' hunting and fishing. In the summers they would go out onto Lake St. Clair, the large body of water that separates Detroit, U.S.A., from Windsor, Canada. They would often come home with up to 200 lake perch, leading to the constant question, "Who's going to clean 'em?"
I went with them a couple of times, but the fishing bug never bit me. It was, I think, too passive a pastime for a preteen, sports-obsessed gadfly like myself. It drove me nuts trapped in that boat waiting for something to happen, wondering if some fish was down there stealing my bait while I waited for the telltale jerk of the line, harbinger of angling success.
But there are plenty of people who do enjoy wetting a line, especially in such lake-bejeweled environs as our town. At the Tenney locks, the John Nolen causeway and scores of other spots around Madison, the fisher folk are ubiquitous. And they're not all doing it just for fun or relaxation; sizable numbers of people eat what they catch, and often it's a significant component of their personal economies.
In that context, our cover story this week has particular local significance and troubling possible consequences. Unlike many of the anglers staff writer David Medaris encountered in preparing "Eating Fish Is Good for You, Right?" he's taken the Department of Natural Resources' advisory on mercury in fish seriously. Is he right to do so? It's a reasonable question.
It turns out that there is very good science indicating that mercury contamination from eating a certain amount of locally caught fish is a probable outcome. But though the scientific rationale is there, the supporting actual data is meager, given the size of the problem and the resources available to monitor it.
Some people are working to reduce that gap between suspicion and reality, concerned that certain classes of people, whether for cultural or economic reasons, are putting themselves at risk with the amount of fish they consume. The Madison Environmental Justice Organization is seeking to eliminate the ignorance surrounding the issue and giving us a documented assessment of the risk to members of the community. It's a large task. Let's be thankful that someone has taken on the challenge, no matter how daunting, in the absence of any official attempt to do the job.