Is It Safe To Eat Lake Erie Walleye?

There aren’t many things tastier than fresh-caught fish that you reeled in yourself. But, if you’re health-conscious, you might wonder, “Are Lake Erie walleye really safe to eat?” Maybe you’ve heard about “Do Not Eat” advisories, and contaminants like mercury and PCB in our waters, and you’d like to make sure it’s safe before you fire up the grill.

Is it safe to eat Lake Erie walleye? The answer is yes! It is safe to eat Lake Erie walleye 52 meals a year, or an average of once a week. All fish from Lake Erie are safe to eat some of the time, but walleye are among the safest, covered only by the general “one meal a week” advisory that covers most game fish in Ohio.

Why are there advisories for some kinds of fish? What makes some fish safe to eat, while others are dangerous? Let’s look at what’s going on in the water to make this happen.

Why the Food Chain Matters

Beneath the waters of our lakes and streams, a battle is constantly raging for survival, as larger fish feed on the smaller fish. This is part of nature, and has been going on as long as there were bigger fish to eat smaller ones. 

Walleye are some of the biggest and strongest fish, so they eat other smaller fish. When they eat smaller fish, they are effectively eating the fish that those fish ate, and the fish that those fish ate, and so on.

This creates a problem known as bioconcentration when there are contaminants in the water.

Some contaminants, such as mercury, and PCBs, do not break down easily, and can last for decades or longer.

At the bottom of the food chain are little mollusks that eat by filtering the water. As they filter food out of the water, they also filter other contaminants like PCBs and heavy metals. Their bodies cannot digest these contaminants, so these toxic chemicals are simply stored in the body tissues of the mollusks.

Other fish eat these mollusks by the thousands, and the same thing happens. The chemicals are stored in the bigger fishes’ body.

When the biggest fish of all eat those fish, they also absorb all those harmful chemicals and store them in their muscle tissues. This is when it becomes dangerous to humans, because these large game fish have eaten all the contaminants that millions of mollusks have filtered out of the water.

These fish are not safe for humans to eat, because their bodies are full of toxins.

There are some rivers that have “Do Not Eat” advisories for all fish, because the contaminant levels in the river have made all the game fish unsafe to eat.

Why Are Lake Erie Walleye Safe?

The truth is that all of the fish in Lake Erie are safe to eat. But, some of them should only be eaten about once a month, and a few should be eaten less frequently than that.

Years ago, Lake Erie was extremely polluted, so badly that some of the rivers that fed it actually caught fire from all the chemical wastes.

Thankfully, the government on federal, state, and local levels spent millions of dollars to clean up the worst of the pollution, and things have improved dramatically over the last few decades.

Unfortunately, some of the toxins that were dumped into the waterways do not break down quickly. Some of them sank to the bottom of the lake, and do not get hit by sunlight, which makes them take even longer to break down.

Because of these toxins, it will take many more years before fish anywhere are completely safe to eat in unlimited quantities.

Lake Erie walleyes are among the safest, because Lake Erie is much cleaner now than it has been in several decades. In fact, in 2008, the Ohio EPA relaxed the advisory on walleye and other Lake Erie fish, a trend that will likely continue as the lake continues to improve.

Now that I know Lake Erie walleye is safe, how shall I cook it?

There are a lot of different recipes for cooking walleye.

Honestly, though, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. Walleye is some of the best-tasting fish you’re going to pull out of Lake Erie.

Throw those fillets on the grill with your favorite seasonings, and you won’t be disappointed.

Related Questions

What do Lake Erie walleye eat?

Walleye are piscivorous, which means that they eat other fish, such as yellow perch. They also eat leeches and minnows, which are excellent to use as bait when you go walleye fishing.

What is the deepest point of Lake Erie?

Lake Erie’s deepest point is in the eastern end of the lake, between New York and Ontario. It is about 210 feet deep there. The western section of the lake is much shallower, averaging only about 60 feet deep.

David Eicher

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