Fish Guide

There are 34 fish consumption advisories on the Coosa in Alabama as a result of PCB and mercury contamination and surprisingly few fishermen are aware of this. To learn about the advisories, visit the “Call” page of Fish Guide or browse the map below. Find some new boat ramps and learn more about the different types of fish in the Coosa over on the “Cast” page. When it’s time to make dinner, make sure to catch some tips from our “Cook” section of Fish Guide to enjoy some tasty eats while reducing your exposure to harmful chemicals.

Follow our 3-step system to a fun and safe fishing trip on the Coosa! Click each image for more info!

CallCastCook

 


The map below contains pins on all sorts of places of interest on the river! Scroll around to find what’s up in your neck of the woods. Fish icons indicate fish consumption advisories – make sure to see which ones apply in your area! Enjoy!

Want to add to our map? E-mail us at fishguide@coosariver.org with what you’d like to see added!

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in Fish Guide is for informational purposes only and is largely culled from third party sources. Some information is not available and some information may be inaccurate. Some businesses may have closed or changed ownership. 

Frequently Asked Questions

At-risk groups include infants and children under the age of 14. Other at-risk groups include women who are nursing, pregnant, or plan to become pregnant.
These groups are at greater risk because the nervous system and brains of developing bodies of infants and children are still forming. The human body naturally removes small amounts of contaminants, but significant health problems can occur when there is a build up of contaminants. within the body. This contamination can occur due to high consumption of fish over a long period of time without regulation or limitation of contaminated consumption.
-Check with your health department for fish consumption advisories in your local waterways. -Do NOT under any circumstances eat any tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish, or shark. -Limit consumption of white tuna to 6 ounces a week. -Eat up to an average of two meals a week (12 ounces) of a variety of fish and shellfish that contain low levels of mercury. -Serve smaller portions of shellfish and fish to young children.
Fish consumption advisories have NO regulatory impact and are not laws that prevent you from eating fish. A fish consumption advisory is a recommendation made by the Alabama Department of Health of the amount and frequency of fish consumed from a specific water body. If a water body or species of fish is not listed in an advisory that means the water body has not been sampled, there is not enough data, or the water body is privately owned… not necessarily that it is safe to eat.
There are two different types of advisories in the Coosa River: --A limited consumption advisory states that women of reproductive age and children (15 and under) should avoid eating certain types of fish from specific water bodies. --A no consumption advisory recommends that everyone should avoid eating certain species of fish in the defined area.
Advisories are to ensure fish you catch in your local waterways are safe to eat. In the Coosa Valley, methylmercury and PCB’s have been found in our waterways (shown in detail in the “About the Contaminants” section) that may cause serious health problems.
You visit the Alabama Department of Public Health Fish Consumption Advisory website or call their toll free number at 1-800-338-8374, but you’ll likely leave a message. Want a succinct map of the advisories on the Coosa? We’ve gotcha covered. Click here.
Good question, because that would make sense, right? According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the reason there are so few signs is because of limited arrangements made by federal agencies and companies who perform cleanup and monitoring of polluted water bodies. They are concerned about vandalism and the impracticality of the signs… but there are other ways we can educate the public about these advisories.They argue that fish advisories may vary from year to year, which makes it difficult and costly to maintain signage in all areas where advisories are needed. We are working hard to push this matter because we believe the advisories should be site specific and easy to follow. The information should be be easily accessible like when you get your fishing license or as easy as calling a toll-free number with the advisories listed. Your native language, location, or access to technology should not prevent you from learning about your local fish consumption advisories.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) collects and tests fish and sends the data to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). From there, the fish are measured, weighed, and examined. You’d think that the labs would test single fish fillets but they often use the method of composite sampling, which is a single sample of processed multiple fish fillets. ADPH determines which fish and waterbodies need advisories after receiving fish tissue data from ADEM.
ADEM personnel collects six fish from each species from various watersheds every FIVE years and the fish are analyzed for 21 different materials that are known to cause harm to human health. While mercury contamination is their primary concern, only predator fish are collected due to limited resources. ADEM personnel collects fish for sampling during the fall utilizing gillnets and electrofishing. ADEM is not required to test the same fish species at the same location each time they test. Meaning, there is really no explanation for why we have advisories on certain fish in certain places—they test what they catch. We think that this is not an effective way to collect for these advisories, and that they should be required to consistently collect specific popular game fish that people often eat in the Coosa Valley. It is important to note that despite the popularity of eating bluegill and crappie, they are not tested. If we’ve got you hooked and you’re interested in learning about about ADEM’s Fish Tissue Monitoring Program, read their guide by clicking here.
The advisories affect your consumption rate (or how much you eat over time) but they don’t affect their ability to catch a hog! The Coosa is home to some of the best fishing in the Southeast. Did you know more Bassmaster’s Classics have been held on the Coosa River than any other river in the Southeast?
The consumption rate is how much you eat of something over a given time frame. For example, there is a “two meals a month (or 16 oz)” advisory for Spotted Bass in Choccolocco Creek. This means that once you have eaten 16 ounces of spotted bass out of this creek, that is all the spotted bass you should eat during that month in order to limit your exposure to methlmercury.
General advisories are based on one meal of fish, so that’s about 8 ounces (1/2 pound) of raw fish. Just remember that 8 ounces of raw fish is equal to 2 decks of playing cards. If you plan to eat fish that is under an advisory, remember how much fish you can safely eat within a week or a month. If the advisory states that you can safely eat one meal a week then, this means you can eat 8 ounces of fish that week. If the advisory states that you should only eat a certain species of fish once a month, then this means you can safety eat 8 ounces of fish one time that month. That is why you should CALL before you CAST!
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, fish migration has not been widely studied and is highly variable?! The state cannot test entire river basins due to significant budget cuts which have affected many state agencies like the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, who collect the fish for testing. The state “gives testing location as a guide for the angler to make a judgment call as to whether to consume fish from that location.” So, it is your responsibility to watch out for contaminated fish from industries who have polluted your waterways. Does that make sense to you? We are looking into the feasibility of doing our own fish tissue sampling in the future. Want to help make that a reality? Click here.
The FDA and EPA have national limits on mercury in fish that you buy in a store or restaurant (click here to see the list). However, they do not have limits on any other types of contaminants. Within factory fish farming, or aquaculture, massive amounts of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides are required to keep disease at bay simply to keep fish alive in overcrowded conditions (typically in nets, cages, or ponds). The risk of contamination is high, both to the surrounding water and within the ponds themselves.
In Alabama, the River State, our motto is “We Dare to Defend Our Rights”, but you really have to fish to find and understand our fish consumption advisories. Alabama does not have a “Fisherman Right to Know” law, so it is the mission of Coosa Riverkeeper to ensure that this information is easy to access, understand, and use in your day-to-day life!
Become a member of the Coosa Riverkeeper, join us in the fight to make the Coosa swimmable and fishable! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Contaminants get into the water from water runoff, erosion, industrial and municipal wastes, non-point source pollution, agricultural practices and many other factors and are often carried downstream from rivers and creeks into lakes and reservoirs, that’s why we focus on saving the skinny water! Organic chemicals concentrate in the fat of the fish tissue. For example, fish absorb PCBs and pesticides from water or their food and it is stored in the fatty tissue. That is why we try to promote specific cleaning and cooking practices to reduce your exposure to PCBs and other harmful contaminates. The A.G. Gaston Steam Plant on the Coosa River is the second highest emitter of mercury in the nation. It’s no surprise we have a lot of mercury advisories on the Coosa River. See the graphic below to see the relationship between coal-fired power plants and contaminated fish. As you can see, methylmercury is deposited atmospherically and then absorbed in the water through fish gills and their food. Mercury binds to the proteins in the fish tissue, including the muscle. It is important to note that larger, older fish and carnivorous fish may accumulate more contaminants than smaller, younger fish. That’s why you should follow our General Rule of Thumb!
Mercury and PCBs are found in the fish sampled in the Coosa River. Methylmercury is often associated with seafood, but has had a significant impact on freshwater fish as well. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, contributes significantly to the mercury pollution in the Coosa and across the world. PCBs (or polychlorinated biphenyls) were banned by Congress in 1979, but because they don’t break down in nature, we are still living with their toxic legacy. Anniston, on Choccolocco Creek, is the first place in the world that PCBs were commercially manufactured, beginning in 1929.The plant was purchased by Monsanto in 1935 and was later shut down in 1971. Over 30 years later, you still are advised NOT to eat the fish from Choccolocco Creek.
Methylmercury is a highly toxic organic compound of mercury. Species of fish that are older and higher on the food chain tend to have higher concentrations of this pollutant than others. Coal-fired power plants are the culprit of a large amount of mercury pollution, at the local, national, and international level. Fish consumption advisories for mercury are (unfortunately) very common in the United States. Mercury is known to build up (or bioaccumulate) in humans. When mercury is present in your food, it can cause significant damage over time to the nervous system and kidneys. Women who consume fish containing mercury before or during pregnancy increase their risk for development and learning problems in their children. High consumption of fish with mercury can lead to heart disease in adults. In short, mercury builds up in the tissue or muscle of the fish, so you can NOT reduce your exposure by following specific preparation or cooking instructions.
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are chemicals that were created for use in electrical transformers, cutting oils and hydraulic fluids, and carbonless paper. Theywere banned by Congress in 1979, but because they don’t break down in nature, we are still living with their toxic legacy. Anniston, on Choccolocco Creek, is the first place in the world that PCBs were commercially manufactured, beginning in 1929.The plant was purchased by Monsanto in 1935 and was later shut down in 1971. Monsanto’s PCBs have contaminated Snow Creek, Choccolocco Creek, Lake Logan Martin and Lay Lake. PCBs build up over time in the fatty tissue of the fish and can also build up in our bodies. PCBs have a wide range of toxic effects, which includes interfering with hormones (as an endocrine disrupter), causing skin conditions like chloracne, and leading to developmental problems. PCBs are an intergenerational pollutant and can accumulate in breast milk. It was known that PCBs were toxic before the plant in Anniston ever opened. It was also well known by Monsanto that their PCBs in Anniston were deadly to wildlife before the plant closed. They covered up the evidence for years, and ended up settling with residents for around $700 million in 2003. To this day, it is unsafe to consume any quantity of any species of fish from Choccolocco Creek. On Logan Martin it is unsafe to consume any quantity of striped bass or catfish over one pound. On Lay Lake it is unsafe to consume striped or spotted bass. Yet, many people do consume these fish because they are unaware of the advisories (which aren’t posted many places) and they must feed their families. In short, PCBs build up in the fatty tissue of the fish, so you CAN reduce your exposure by cleaning and cooking your fish to reduce your exposure to PCBs (i.e. don’t deep fry). Bottom feeders like catfish tend to have higher levels of PCBs.
Developmental and learning disabilities are a concern with pregnant women who are exposed to high levels of both mercury and PCBs. PCB’s build up in human breast milk and are also responsible for risk factors such as premature births, low birth weight and smaller head size in infants.
Follow the fish consumption advisories provided by Alabama Department of Public Health. • Eat the smaller fish, OR smaller portions of the larger fish. • Reduce PCB exposure by removing fat from the fish and cooking the fish with the least amount of fat (i.e. baking fish on a rack in the oven) Follow these guidelines when preparing fish or seafood: --Keep the fish cold until ready to eat to prevent spoiling! Store in refrigerator within two hours of cooking or serving. --Eat only thoroughly cooked fish! Uncooked fish might have viruses or parasites that might make you sick… don’t risk it! --Eat only the fillet portions of the fish. Contaminants like PCBs accumulate in the fatty tissues, especially when you’ve caught a big fish! Remove and discard skin, guts, and liver. Filleting removes the fat located in the belly and along the lateral line of the back.
The goal is to clean and cook the fish in ways that reduce fat because PCBs accumulate in the fatty tissue of the fish. Don’t know where to find the fat in the fish? See the images on the next two pages. To filet: • Make sure to remove the head and all of the guts • Remove the skin and trim the fat surrounding the belly and back, as well as the dark meat along the length of the filet. To cook: • DO NOT FRY in pan or deep fry! Because PCBs are fat soluble, they are suspended in your cooking oil. The best way to reduce PCB contamination is by reducing the fat in your fish through filleting and low-fat cooking methods like boiling, poaching, baking, or broiling to allow the fat to drip away from the fish. • DO NOT eat or re-use the cooking liquids.
We get it; it’s traditional, economical and it makes that fried fish extra tasty… but remember that PCBs are fat soluble. They are suspended in your cooking oil and the best way to reduce PCB contamination is by reducing the fat in your fish through fileting and low-fat cooking methods like boiling, poaching, baking, or broiling to allow the fat to drip away from the fish.
Remember that these contaminants build up in your system over time causing a variety of heath problems. So, if you have consumed a lot of fish that are under an advisory, we’d recommend calling your primary care physician to ensure you are taking the best care of your health. Please follow the advisories and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Simple Oven Fried Fish:   Ingredients: 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted 2 large eggs, beaten 2 tablespoons milk or water 1/2 cup yellow corn meal 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1 1/4 teaspoons paprika 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder 2 lbs. fresh or frozen white fish fillets   Directions:  
  • PREHEAT oven to 400° F. Coat 13 x 9-inch baking dish with butter.
  • COMBINE eggs and milk in medium bowl. Combine corn meal, flour, paprika and garlic powder in medium bowl. Dip fish fillets into egg mixture, coating both sides, then into corn meal mixture. Place skin-side down in baking dish.
  • BAKE for 20 to 25 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Season with salt and ground black pepper to taste.

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