As I watched a pod of dolphins frolicking near the Venice Pier, often leaping clear of the water, I knew that they were unaware that many of the fish that made up their diet were recently deemed unsafe to eat.
For years, health officials have advised local fishermen to toss back the abundant, bottom-feeding white croaker. Now local barracuda, topsmelt, black croaker and barred sand bass have been put on the unhealthy list. In May, health officials will install signs on the Venice Pier with pictures so that fisherman can compare images of contaminated fish with their catch.
The environmental group Heal the Bay is already visiting local piers, including Venice’s, passing out cards with pictures of the unhealthy fish. According to the Los Angeles Times, the additions to the list aren't because contamination has gotten worse, but because scientists understand it better.
The problem arose because of Montrose Chemical Corporation which operated the country’s largest DDT pesticide manufacturing plant. Over 30 years, 110 tons of DDT and 11 tons of PCBs flowed into sewers that poured into the ocean off Palos Verdes. Both chemicals were banned in the 1970s, but the Palos Verdes shelf was turned into a superfund site. The red zone for tainted fish extends from Santa Monica to Seal Beach. Fishing charters go past the contaminated zone into cleaner waters further out.
The black croaker and barracuda were added to the list because they were found to have unsafe levels of mercury, a condition unrelated to the Montrose pollution.
Over time eating the fish can lead to cancer, liver damage, immune and endocrine system damage and developmental problems in children. The young and the elderly are more susceptible to the poisons. Pregnant women can pass the contaminants to their fetuses.
If you fish in Venice, take the time to match your catch. Keep yourself and your family healthy. Our dolphin friends are smart, but they are indiscriminate when it comes to what they eat.