BOISE – Fish given to the region’s poor people by Idaho wildlife officials without a warning about mercury levels were more widely distributed than previously disclosed.
One Washington charity that got lake trout and whitefish caught from Lake Pend Oreille said Thursday it passed hundreds of pounds to other groups.
The Union Gospel Mission in Spokane gave much of roughly 1,200 pounds of fish it received from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to as many as 25 other church-affiliated food banks and homeless shelters last November.
The mission, which Wednesday indicated it still had most of the fish in freezers, says that was incorrect. All its fish are gone.
Kris James, Union Gospel director of food services and culinary training, said officials at the shelter near downtown Spokane are now questioning whether to accept more fish once Fish and Game’s gillnetting program resumes next month. They’re concerned it will be impossible to monitor how much people eat.
Since 2007, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has advised pregnant women and children to eat just one monthly meal of lake trout and no more than four meals of whitefish caught from Lake Pend Oreille.
“As a social agency, we have a responsibility to protect the people we work with,” said James, who didn’t learn of the advisory until last week. “If they were in a position to choose their fish, I imagine they would make the appropriate choices. But if they’re not in a position to choose, somebody needs to guide them.”
Mercury occurs naturally and may also be concentrated in Idaho lakes due to historical mining activities. At high levels, it can damage the human nervous system, particularly in developing fetuses.
When asked if women and children in Spokane who received the fish may have eaten more than the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare recommends, James said, “It is a possibility.”
That’s possible elsewhere, too. The Post Falls Food Bank, which also got fish, says it distributed as much as 96 ounces of fish in family food baskets last summer, an amount 48 times more than a child weighing less than 30 pounds is advised to eat monthly, according to the Health and Welfare advisory.
Fish and Game, which is catching the fish to remove predators that eat dwindling populations of bull trout and kokanee, said it also gave fish to the Kootenai Tribe in Bonners Ferry, the Bonner Community Food Bank in Sandpoint, the Shoshone County Food Bank in Kellogg, a church in Coeur d’Alene and the Kalispel Tribe in Eastern Washington.
Idaho officials now concede they didn’t adequately warn the charities that received the fish.
Still, they insist the fish remain a healthy source of protein, when eaten judiciously.