A history of total mercury in edible muscle of fish from lakes in northern Canada
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Subsistence fishing has been an important source of food for Native People in northern Canada since prehistoric time. Measurements of the levels of mercury in edible muscle of northern fish have been undertaken for over three decades in efforts to evaluate the risks of consuming northern fish. This report summarizes the data obtained from 7974 fish of 25 species from sites distributed from the Yukon to Labrador. The most abundant species were lake trout, lake whitefish, arctic char, walleye, northern pike and burbot. The question being asked was essentially "Are the fish safe to eat?" The results were used to support decisions on fishing and consumption of fish. They were sorted in several ways, into concentration ranges corresponding to human consumption guidelines, into political jurisdictions and into types of bedrock geology. Overall walleye, northern pike and lake trout, usually exceeded the subsistence consumption guideline of 0.2 microg g-1 total mercury and often exceeded the higher guideline of 0.5 microg g-1 total mercury for commercial sales of fish. Mercury in burbot, another facultative predator, was often lower but several still exceeding a guideline. Arctic char collections were mostly from anadromous populations and these had very low levels of mercury, presumably reflecting marine food sources. Lake whitefish were among the cleanest fish examined with 69 of 81 collections falling in the lowest range. Most collections were from sites in sedimentary rock. However a few sites were in metamorphic, intrusive or volcanic rocks and these, taken together, tended to have a higher proportion of sites in the higher ranges of mercury. These results indicate a widespread problem with mercury in subsistence fisheries for predator species of fish with the problem being most problematic for Nunavut.
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