The New York State Department of Health issues an annual advisory about consuming certain fish caught in specific New York State water bodies, because some fish contain chemicals at levels that could adversely affect health. For the first time, this advisory includes some fish species from Owasco Lake.
Data from walleye and smallmouth bass collected in Owasco Lake by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation showed mercury levels that were higher than those previously found in smaller fish. The fish collected in Owasco Lake tended to include larger, older fish than in other Finger Lakes
Mercury is a naturally occurring element, which can be released into the environment by sources like coal combustion. Elevated levels of mercury in fish have been documented in many New York State waters for many years, including lakes in the Adirondack and Catskill Regions of New York. Fish typically accumulate mercury from the food they eat. Smaller and younger fish within a species and fish lower in the food chain tend to build up fewer contaminants in their bodies, hence have a lower potential amount of mercury.
Based on the information from the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, walleyes collected and sampled from Owasco Lake in an earlier study were older than walleyes found in other lakes. Fish that live longer and eat other fish, like bass and walleye, tend to have more mercury than do smaller or younger fish. The Finger Lakes Institute plans on repeating their study in the next 18 months, depending upon funding, to see how the fish mercury levels are changing over time.
It is essential to know that the public drinking water from the City of Auburn and the Town of Owasco, both who draw water from Owasco Lake, is still safe. This drinking water is tested annually for mercury and to date, no mercury has been detected.
For specific recommendations on fish consumption go to www.health.ny.gov/fish/fl.
For information on the chemicals for which the City of Auburn and Town of Owasco test in their drinking water go to
For more information on the Finger Lakes Mercury Project go to