NC Coastal Federation warning about health risks of consuming fish caught in the Cape Fear River

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — When the weather is nice, its not uncommon to see people fishing along the Cape Fear River but you may want to consider tossing the fish you catch back into the water.

Years of industrial pollution dumped into the river have forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to classify the Cape Fear as an impaired waterway.

With pollution in the river there’s also concern about the level of contaminants that may be found in the fish that live there.

“There are contaminants in it that are leftover from many years of not taking care of the river,” said Veronica Carter who serves as a board member with the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

Recently, regulators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality noticed a lot of people doing recreational fishing in the river.

“They weren’t doing catch and release,” Carter said. “They were actually trying to get food to supplement their diet.”

In many places along the river, there are no posted advisories or warnings.

Some fish pose a higher risk for contaminants than other species. While many people in the Cape Fear are familiar with the chemical pollution called GenX discharged from the Chemours plant in Bladen County, the Cape Fear River has an even longer history with industrial pollution.

“A lot of industry, particularly in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s and even the early 80’s, needed a lot of water, and of course for us, that means the Cape Fear River,” she said.

While many companies have been cited, the pollution they caused continues to pose a health risk for the fish habitat.

“We have fish that have some of those heavy metals still in them,” Carter said.

That’s why several groups including Cape Fear River Watch, NC Coastal Federation, New Hanover County Health Department and New Hanover County Arboretum — are coming together this weekend to host an event called “Go Fish! Eating Safer from the Cape Fear River.”

“We wanted to make the Cape Fear River safer for folks who had to eat the fish out of the river,” Carter said.

The event will be held Sunday, March 27, 1-4 p.m., at the new Hanover County Arboretum in Wilmington.

Ideally, Carter says it would be great if people released the fish they catch back into the water. But for those determined to take the fish they catch home to cook, she says there’s a safer way to prepare them.

The “Go Fish!” event will offer health recipes for preparing fish that can reduce the amount of contaminants people ingest. Organizers have enlisted Wilmington chefs Dean Neff and Keith Rhodes to help with the recipes.

“We’re gonna have all of those folks there on Sunday, events for the kids, some fun things and sample some food,” Carter said.

They’re hoping people will leave knowing how to identify fish that could be more dangerous to eat, as well as how to filet and cook the fish.

“If we can get the entire family educated, get them knowledgeable, knowledge is power and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Carter said.

One component of this initiative involves reaching the Latino population and resources at the event will be available in Spanish.

For more information, contact the NC Coastal Federation.


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