If you fish on Lake Norman, you may have heard about a new warning this week from state and county health officials. They advise most people not to eat striped bass from the lake more than once a week, and for pregnant women and children to avoid the fish altogether. It’s because they’ve detected PCB’s in the fish. These chemicals, once common industrial lubricants, were banned in 1979 because they were found to cause birth defects and to be a likely cause of cancer. PCB’s have been a problem in other bodies of water for years, but this is the first warning about them in Lake Norman. So we called Captain Gus Gustafson. He’s been taking people fishing on Lake Norman for more than 20 years.
Captain Gus says striped bass, or stripers, are popular with sport fishermen because they're fun to catch. “It’s a big game fish, and it fights hard. They can grow to be really big. We’ve caught them as big as 37 pounds over the years. They’re just bigger than anything else except catfish,” he says.
The average striper weighs in at about 5 or 7 pounds. Captain Gus says the fish are also good to eat, but most people fishing for sport catch-and-release.
He says, “ I think the majority of the people that eat their catch are the people that are fishing for food, not the sports fishermen. Those are the bank fishermen, at the hot water discharges and the bridges and wherever they can find a place along the bank. There’s a whole group of people who use the fish as part of their daily diet. So, those are the people that’ll be affected the most by it.”
Captain Gus says though this is a different warning for Lake Norman, these kinds of advisories are nothing new.
“ Most lakes have some kind of pollution warning. There’s a statewide warning on black bass, some catfish. There’s just no hope for it because the catfish have it, the bass have it. And if they stay around long enough and get big enough, it’s an issue,” he says.
The captain offered this advice for Lake Norman fishermen:
“ People should just read the guidelines, and not let it bother them in one way or the other. They should enjoy the fish, enjoy the lake. We’ve got a great place to fish, enjoy the scenery, and we’ve got a great fishing season coming up. I encourage everyone to go out here and do fishing or whatever they want to and lot let a little piece of news change their attitude about things.”
The advisory says the PCBs do not pose a threat to the water itself. You can read more here.