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World record striped bass had elevated mercury levels: Should fishermen be concerned? (Joe's Outdoor Office)

Ten months ago James Bramlett of Dora Alabama stood thefishing world on end when he landed a Striped Bass that weighed 69 pounds 9ounces shattering the Alabama state record by 15 pounds that had stood since1959. The monster striper was later awarded the IGFA World Record for a landlockedstriped bass. That record stood since 1992.

DORA, Alabama- James R. Bramlett, 65, landed a 70 pound striped bass from the Black Warrior River near the Gorgas Steam Plant Thursday February 28, 2013. The fish was weighed on certified scales and officials and a fisheries biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources were at Bramlett's home today to make it official. The fish is 45.5 inches long and has a 37.75 inch girth. It tops the previous state record by 15 pounds that has stood since 1959. That fish was caught on the Tallapoosa River. The catch may become the new IGFA world record for a landlocked stripe bass. That record currently stands at 67pounds, 8 ounces. (Joe Songer/jsonger@al.com) News of the catch and broken records spread literally acrossthe world. Michael Bothner, Scientist Emeritus at the U.S. Geological Surveywas curious about mercury levels in a fish that size. He called Bramlett andtaxidermist Jackie Scott to get tissue samples to test.

Bothner send me the test results and this is what theyshowed:

The averagemercury concentration among three samples of muscle tissue was 1.02 ± 0.12micrograms of mercury per gram of wet tissue, or parts per million (ppm). This concentration is 3.4 times higher thanthe 0.3 ppm threshold set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thattriggers consumption advisories. TheAlabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) advises that fish havingconcentrations between 0.48 and 0.97 ppm should be consumed at a frequencylimited to one meal per month. Fishhaving mercury higher than 0.97 ppm are in the "no consumption" category.

Should fisherman in the state of Alabama be concerned aboutthe elevated mercury concentration in this fish?

Bothner sent the results to John Guarisco, at the AlabamaDepartment of Public Health. I called and talked with Guarisco about thefindings because he is the person that compiles the every year.

Guarisco confirmed the ADPH uses the EPA guidelines of 0.3ppm of Mercury and went on to clarify their "meals per month" levels. "Ifmercury levels are between 0.32 and 0.48 ppm, our recommendation is no morethan 2 meals per month," he explained. "Mercury levels from 0.48 to 0.97 werecommend consuming one meal per month."

"I'm not surprised that a fish of that size and age had anelevated mercury concentration," Guarisco said. "That is a huge fish, almost 70pounds! He has been eating in those waters for over 20 years. It's well knownthat big fish have more mercury than small young fish."

SAYRE, Alabama -- IGFA World Record holder James R. Bramlett with his 69 pound, 9 ounce striped bass. Bramlett received the mounted fish from Centreville taxidermist Jackie Scott. the fish will be available for viewing at Sayre Auto Parts at 7192 Bankhead Hwy. in Dora, Alabama. Bramlett said he wants people to be able to see the fish. (Joe Songer/jsonger@al.com).Guarisco explained that mercury is an element and it can'tbe destroyed. It hangs around and gets in the sediment. Acidic water reacts withthe mercury. Small bugs eat from the sediment and are eaten by bigger bugs.Baitfish like shad, a striper's favorite food, eats the bugs and the stripereats the shad, lots and lots of shad. It reminds me of the old saying "You arewhat you eat".

I asked Guarisco if there is a fish consumption advisory onthat stretch of the Black Warrior River. "No, there is no advisory," Guariscostated. "We have no supporting data to cause concern at this time."

I called ADEM, Alabama Department of Environmental Management,to get the latest This section of the Black Warrior Riverwhere the world record striper was caught has just been sampled 2-3 monthsbefore in the fall of 2012. Scott Hughes at ADEM explained how they take thesamples and sent me their report that, in some cases was broken down tospecific fish, their weight, length and toxin report.

I noticed that no striped bass were included in the sample."We do as good a job sampling as many fish as possible with the resources wehave," Hughes explained. Basically the team catches what they can and sampleseverything they catch. "We sample the top of the food chain, larger fish,"Hughes continued.

I saw largemouth bass, spotted bass and catfish of severalvarieties in the samples taken in 2012 at several locations on the BlackWarrior River. No stripers were caught so they couldn't be sampled.

Nelson Brooke, a spokesman with Black Warrior Riverkeepersalso received the mercury report. He was familiar with it but had not analyzedit thoroughly yet. He wouldn't comment specifically on this fish but did say hehas concerns about the way ADEM conducts their sampling and worries about"hotspots", or fish that have higher mercury levels that are missed by ADEM'ssample. ADEM's Scott Hughes stated they do what can with the resources theyhave.

Another of Brooke's concerns is the number of sustenancefisherman that eat several times the state average fish consumption. "Thesefisherman fish to eat and eat whatever they catch," Brooke explained. "They eata variety of fish from big cats to buffalo, carp, suckers and bass. I worryabout people getting too many toxins in their systems."

One thing that Brooke, Hughes and Guarisco do agree on isthis. Don't eat really large fish. Catch and release the big ones and eat thesmaller ones. "Guarisco went on to say, "Don't be afraid to eat fish caught inAlabama waters. Eat the smaller fish or small portions of the larger ones. Ifyou catch a big one invite friends and family over so everyone has a portion."

In conclusion, everyone that saw the mercury report on theworld record striper agreed that the size of the fish and its age contributedto the elevated mercury levels. Also the fish was not eaten. Jackie Scott mounted the fish for JamesBramlett. Photos of the mounted world record striped bass can be seen in thephoto gallery above.

If you plan on eating fish from Alabama waters, here is a link to the

Here are links for stories about the IGFA World record striped bass caught by James Bramlett.


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