Anglers advised not to consume any Smelts caught south of Batchewana Bay to St. Mary’s headwaters


Although not a native species of Lake Superior, for decades local area anglers have flocked to streams and creeks in the area for the annual Rainbow Smelt run every Spring around this time. The smelts are triggered to enter streams and creeks to spawn by the rise in water temperatures due to the Spring melt, making it easy to net these small fish in large quantities.

Rainbow Smelt are considered an invasive species after being intentionally introduced back in 1912 to a lake which drains into Lake Michigan. After quickly spreading into Lake Michigan and beyond, the smelt’s range now includes Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, and Lake Superior.

This year however, the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks issued an advisory not to consume any Smelts caught south of Batchewana Bay to the St. Mary’s River headwaters (the Goulais Bay area) due to a toxin which has recently been detected in them called Toxaphene. The MECP’s Guide to Eating Ontario Fish for 2021 is advising that ZERO Rainbow Smelt caught in the Goulais Bay area be consumed, including traditional catch streams throughout Harmony and Havilland Bay.

Source: Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks – Superscripts in the advisory tables identify the contaminant or group of contaminants that are causing consumption restrictions within a given species/location: (5) Toxaphene is an extremely persistent insecticide in the aquatic environment. It was removed from general use in Canada in 1974 and restricted in the United States in 1982.

Toxaphene is an extremely persistent insecticide in the aquatic environment and is a mixture of over 670 different chemicals, produced by reacting chlorine gas with camphene. It was removed from general use in Canada in 1974, restricted in the United States in 1982 and banned globally by the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Toxaphene was a widely used pesticide on cotton, other crops, and in livestock and poultry. It has been shown to cause adverse health effects in humans with the main sources of exposure through food, drinking water, breathing contaminated air, and direct contact with contaminated soil. Exposure to high levels of toxaphene can cause damage to the lungs, nervous system, liver, kidneys, and in extreme cases, may even cause death. It is also thought to be a potential carcinogen in humans, though this has not yet been proven.

Lake Superior, North America’s largest fresh water lake, is known for its cold water which tends to attract toxaphene which can be transported around the world in the atmosphere and hang around in an environment for potentially up to 14 years. Once in the water, it takes a while to break down where it accumulates in sediment and fish tissues.

With the current COVID-19 emergency break pulled by the province which restricts in-restaurant dining, hopefully local area eateries will do their part to keep this popular dish off their menus as well, if sourced from the Goulais Bay area. In the meantime, this advisory doesn’t help any fish, birds or other wildlife which may consume these tasty fish regardless of the season.



    Michigan and Wisconsin have issued advisories against eating smelts from Lake Superior due to unsafe levels of PFOS and PFAS, the so-called “Forever Chemicals.”

    PFAS and PFOS comprise over 5,000 human-made chemicals that have been used to make non-stick cookware, fast-food wrappers, and stain-resistant sprays, among numerous other products.

    PFAS and PFOS have made their way into the environment in various ways, including spills of PFAS-containing materials, discharges of PFAS-containing wastewater to treatment plants, and certain kinds of firefighting foam.

    Large quantities were and are being used at U.S. airforce bases (like Kincheloe), resulting in toxic levels in water supplies of adjacent communities.

    Toxaphene was banned in Canada in 1974 and in the United States in 19982 and was banned globally by the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

    Despite being banned, it is still used as an insecticide for livestock, especially.

    It is a very persistent chemical that can remain in the environment for many years without degrading, particularly in the soil.

    The WHO’s International Agency For research On Cancer and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, both, designate Toxaphene as a probable carcinogen.

    Toxaphene will bioconcentrate in the tissues of aquatic organisms and will be biomagnified in the aquatic food chain.

    The levels of Toxaphene will increase as you go up higher in the food chain, to larger and larger fish, and ultimately, humans.

    It is very disturbing that high levels are being found in smelts, which are low in the food chain.

    Today, the primary source (70%) of toxaphene to the Great Lakes has been identified as atmospheric transport and deposition from agricultural soils in the southern U.S., Mexico and Central America.

    The highest concentrations in fish and lake water are found in Lake Superior. Concentrations of toxaphene declined in lake trout from Lakes Michigan, Huron and Ontario during the 1990s (with half-lives of 8 years) but not in Lake Superior.

    Recent measurements suggest no declines from the mid-1990s to 2000 in all four lakes.

    Modelling has demonstrated that colder temperatures and low sedimentation rates in Lake Superior, and to some extent in Lake Michigan, conspire to maintain high toxaphene concentrations in the water column.

    Given the long half-lives in fish and water, elevated toxaphene is likely to remain a contaminant issue in the Great Lakes until the middle of the twenty-first century.

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