D.C. to locals: Don't eat our rockfish

A rockfish. (AP Photo/Kathleen Lange)

For the first time ever, a very popular local fish is on the "Do Not Eat" list. Recent testing in the Potomac River has found extremely elevated levels of PCBs in rockfish.

Rockfish, also known as stripers or striped bass, is an important part of the local economy. It's a very popular fish for recreational and commercial fisherman. But D.C. now says you shouldn't eat it.

At the Maine Avenue Fish Market in DC, rockfish are big business.

"It's one of the most popular fish we have. You can fry it, grill it, bake it," said James Meadows of Jessie Taylor Seafood.

It's a main course on regional restaurant menus and dinner tables. It's a fish that's helped spawned an entire charter boat industry.

"Locally, it's pretty important. These are all caught in Maryland and Virginia," added Meadows, who works behind the counter weighing and packaging the fish. .

But recent rockfish testing in the Potomac has found concerning levels of PCBs. A PCB is a man-made industrial compound that's no longer produced, but still found in the environment. It's also a known carcinogen.

Rockfish testing last year in D.C. found levels of 1200 parts per billion - nearly 10 times higher than the most recent testing in VA (2008: 130 ppb) and MD (2010: 125 ppb). This prompted D.C. to add rockfish to the "Do Not Eat" list, for the first time ever.

For years in Maryland and Virginia, rockfish have been under a consumption advisory, limiting recommended meals to two or fewer a month.

"We don't believe there is a safe level of consumption," stated Tommy Wells, the Director of the Department of Energy and Environment, which did the testing.

Rockfish migrate. So, it's not known where they're picking up the toxin. Wells hopes people take this news seriously and understand the local economic effect this could have.

"I hope that people don't stop going out on charter boats and recreational fishing around the bank. I will continue to catch rockfish, but I will release them," concluded Wells.

While the rockfish was placed on the "Do Not Eat" list, the same testing found other fish in District waters are getting cleaner and healthier. Wednesday, catfish were removed from the "Do Not Eat" list. The District says they are now healthy to eat in limited amounts.

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