TDEC Issues Precautionary Fish Consumption Advisories for Two Streams Within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) today announced a precautionary fish consumption advisory for smallmouth bass from Abrams Creek and the Little River within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The advisory on Abrams Creek extends from its mouth on Chilhowee Reservoir upstream to Abrams Falls. The advisory on Little River begins at the national park boundary upstream of Townsend near river mile 35 and extends upstream to the area called “The Sinks” near mile 41.5.
TDEC advises that pregnant or nursing mothers and children avoid eating smallmouth bass from the portion of Abrams Creek or Little River included in the advisory. All others should limit consumption of smallmouth bass to one meal per month. Other recreational activities on these streams such as kayaking, swimming, wading, and catch-and-release fishing carry no risk from mercury. There is no advisory on trout, which were found to have generally low levels of mercury.
“We provide these advisories so people can make informed decisions about whether or not to consume fish they catch,” Greg Young, deputy commissioner of TDEC, said. “Precautionary fish consumption advisories are directed to sensitive populations such as children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and those who may eat fish frequently from the same body of water.”
The advisory is the result of cooperative fish tissue sampling and analysis by U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service as part of a study of mercury concentrations in fish from national parks. Samples at multiple stations were collected in 2015 and 2016. Fish collected from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park included blacknose dace; brook, brown, and rainbow trout; and largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Mercury levels in trout and dace were generally low in the U.S. Geological Survey study. Only smallmouth bass in Abrams Creek and Little River exceeded mercury trigger points recommended by both the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration (0.3 mg/kg). While mercury levels in smallmouth bass from the Middle Prong Little Pigeon River near Pittman Center were elevated in some fish, average levels were below the trigger.
In 2018, National Park Service staff collected smallmouth bass from the West Prong Little Pigeon River upstream of Pigeon Forge which were then analyzed by TDEC. This stream was targeted because it was not included in the 2015-2016 U.S. Geological Survey study. Mercury levels in these fish were well below the trigger point.
TDEC considers the source of mercury within Great Smoky Mountains National Park to be atmospheric deposition. According to the EPA, atmospheric deposition due to the global burning of coal is the most frequent reason for elevated levels of mercury in fish. TDEC will post warning signs at public access points and will work with the National Park Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to communicate this information to the public.
About Fish Consumption Advisories
The Tennessee Water Quality Control Act identifies the commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation as having the authority and responsibility to issue advisories for either water contact hazards like pathogens or excessive health risks due to the accumulation of contaminants in fish or shellfish. Tennessee’s General Water Quality Criteria provide additional guidance regarding the conditions under which advisories may be warranted.
There are two types of fish consumption advisories issued by TDEC based on the levels of contaminants present in fish tissue. “Do not consume” fishing advisories are issued when levels of contaminants in fish tissue would represent a threat to the general population. Precautionary advisories are issued when contaminant levels are lower, but would still pose a risk to sensitive subpopulations.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, mercury is a naturally occurring element that can be found throughout the environment. Human activities such as burning coal, some industrial processes and waste incineration have caused the amount of mercury in some areas to increase. The primary way people in the U.S. are exposed to mercury is by eating fish containing methylmercury, a toxic form of mercury that accumulates easily in organisms.
Where new advisories have been issued, TDEC will immediately begin the process of putting up signs at primary public access points. TDEC works in partnership with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to communicate information about fishing advisories.