ALBANY - New York officials have added broad warnings against eating any fish caught in areas with visible blooms of blue-green algae to the latest lengthy edition of cautions against contaminants in sport-fish.
Updated annually by the health and conservation departments, advisories note microscopic algae are naturally present in lakes and streams but can mass in warm, shallow, undisturbed surface water. Blooms discolor the water and form surface scum. While most algae are harmless, some produce toxins.
Possible risks are nausea, vomiting, skin irritation, allergic reactions and harm to the liver and nervous system. Five cases were reported statewide in 2011 and none so far in 2012, according to the Health Department.
"Blue-green algae are not a new phenomenon," Health Department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said. They tend to occur in hot, dry years and can move in less than a day from one spot on a waterway to another.
Last July, health officials temporarily suspended swimming on Oneida Lake in central New York because of blooms.
The Department of Environmental Conservation on Tuesday posted an online map of algae blooms, showing five statewide and acknowledging there may be others. The agency, which plans to update the map weekly, gets reports from staff and lake volunteer monitors, and reports from the public that it first verifies. It has ongoing programs to reduce nutrient runoff into waterways, one factor in blue-green algae blooms.
Health officials also caution against drinking any untreated surface water, whether or not blooms are present, since it may contain other bacteria, parasites or viruses.
While acknowledging recreational fishing as part of New York's outdoor tradition, Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah said people should be aware of the advisories for 150 water bodies and various fish from each because of likely contaminants.
Lewiston Reservoir in Niagara County and part of the Beaver River in Lewis County were added to the list this year, respectively, because of PCBs in carp and mercury in smallmouth bass.
The agency generally advises eating less than 4.5 pounds of sport fish monthly from New York waters that are not on its list. There are stricter limits for many waterways whose fish have higher contaminant levels, including a warning that children under 15 and women under 50 should eat none from those waterways.
In the Catskills region, for example, health officials advise all adults against eating more than one smallmouth bass or walleye a month from the Ashokan Reservoir because of mercury in them.
They advise that nobody eat carp, channel catfish and lake trout more than 25 inches long and brown trout of more than 20 inches from the St. Lawrence River because of PCBs, mirex and dioxin.
To reduce exposures to PCBs, dioxin, mirex, DDT, chlordane and dieldrin, officials generally recommend eating less American eel, bluefish, carp, lake trout, salmon, striped bass, weakfish, white and channel catfish, and white perch.
The state has more than 70,000 miles of rivers and streams; 7,600 lakes, ponds and reservoirs; borders two Great Lakes; and is home to marine waters and estuaries.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates the sale of commercial fish in markets. Due to concerns about mercury, the FDA advises women who are or may become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children to avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.