A new state study suggests that most of Louisiana's fishermen are well aware of advisories and warnings that sometimes caution against eating wild-caught fish, but it does very little to change their consumption patterns. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' (LDWF) socioeconomic research section completed the survey last year and questions were posed to every type of recreational fishing license holder. The goal of the "2008 Louisiana Recreational Fisherman and Health Advisory Survey Report" was to measure anglers' awareness of fish consumption advisories or warnings and then to determine how effective these words of caution were. Basically, state officials wanted to know if fishermen were still eating their catches last year even if they were advised not to do so.
Fish consumption advisories are usually issued by the state Department of Health and Hospitals, although LDWF and Department of Environmental Quality can play a role as well. State officials only issue advisories for certain water bodies and fish species when there are concerns over the potential health risks or seafood that might contain toxic materials.
While fish warnings may sound familiar and you might even heed them, the new study released this week found that only 58 percent of the fishermen polled knew they existed. That's despite major outreach efforts in newspapers and magazines and on radio and television, which topped the ways informed fishermen became aware of the warnings last year. Recreational fishermen who responded to the survey reported they consumed fish an average of about four times per month in 2008, and approximately three-fourths of those surveyed say consumption warnings did not change their eating habits. In fact, only three of 10 respondents reported they changed their fish-eating habits as a result of the fish consumption warnings.
The top three reasons given by those who did not change their eating habits were:
• There were no warnings on the water bodies where they fish; 43 percent.
• They did not usually eat fish caught from water bodies containing health warnings; 28 percent.
• They did not eat enough fish for the warnings to apply to them; 27 percent.
Other findings from the study include:
• Approximately 42 percent of survey respondents fished in freshwater only, while 21 percent fished in saltwater only. The remaining 37 percent of the respondents fished in both freshwater and saltwater areas.
• The three top reasons why respondents go fishing in Louisiana were for relaxation (87 percent), spending time outdoors (85 percent) and catching fish for food (77 percent).
• About 81 percent of respondents fished primarily from a private boat and 16 percent fished from the shore, bank or pier. The remaining 2 percent reported they primarily surf or wade fished, or fished from a charter boat.
• Disregarding ponds, the three top freshwater fishing spots listed by respondents were Toledo Bend, Atchafalaya Basin and Red River.
• The three top reported saltwater fishing spots were Grand Isle, Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico.
• The three most common personally self-caught fish species consumed by survey respondents were drum, speckled trout and catfish.
A copy of the report can be down loaded from the LDWF Web site at www.wlf.louisiana.gov/education/economics. — Jeremy Alford