Published July 06, 2011, 12:00 AM

A fisherman's view: Strong EPA mercury pollution rules could help save fishing in Minnesota

I manufacture fishing accessories and hope to someday pass my small business and love for the sport on to my grandsons. There is nothing like enjoying a beautiful Minnesota day on Lake Superior, fishing for steelhead trout. The moment of hooking the fish is something I’m passionate about sharing with others and is why I got into this business.

By: Rich Femling, Duluth News Tribune

I manufacture fishing accessories and hope to someday pass my small business and love for the sport on to my grandsons. There is nothing like enjoying a beautiful Minnesota day on Lake Superior, fishing for steelhead trout. The moment of hooking the fish is something I’m passionate about sharing with others and is why I got into this business.

It’s also why I support transitioning off coal-fired electricity generation.

Every one of the Land of 10,000 Lakes’ waterways is under a fish-consumption advisory due to mercury contamination. Our state fish, the walleye, should be limited at the dinner table. This threatens my business and my winter ice-fishing trips with my grandsons. Consumption of mercury can cause brain damage; learning disabilities in young children; birth defects; damage to the nervous system, kidneys and liver; and can even cause cancer.

In addition to affecting public health, mercury pollution could discourage participation in sport fishing. Increasing or at least maintaining angler participation is vital to the survival of this industry, and any circumstance that discourages angler participation needs to be identified and dealt with strategically. If something is harmful to our fish or our anglers, it is harmful to our industry.

This summer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a long-overdue update to the Clean Air Act that could strengthen public health protections from coal-fired power plants. Minnesota has been a leader in mercury pollution reduction, enacting the Minnesota Mercury Emissions Reduction Act of 2006, which requires Minnesota’s largest coal-fired power plants to cut mercury emissions by 90 percent. But pollution does not stay within state lines, which is why we need the federal EPA’s strong national protections from toxic mercury to reduce mercury levels quickly and decisively.

Businesses in the fishing industry can promote a particular product or target a certain class of customers to help sales and to stem short-term losses in participation. We can counter the lack of youth participation by applying electronic devices such as GPS, fish finders and underwater cameras to the sport. And we can educate the public about the need to limit fish consumption due to mercury pollution.

However, we cannot counter the effects of mercury pollution alone. We need the EPA to stand its ground and move forward with the strongest possible protections for mercury pollution.

Rich Femling owns and operates Rose Creek Anglers Inc. of Roseville, Minn. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

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