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Agencies issue guidelines for eating fish from floodwaters


State agencies in Mississippi are working tirelessly to meet the challenges posed by the historic flooding of the Mississippi River, its tributaries and backwaters. Hundreds of communities and thousands of Mississippians are being affected now, and the effects of the flood will be felt long after the water recedes.

The top priority in this natural disaster is keeping people safe, and a key issue is the safety of eating fish caught in floodwaters. Last Friday, state chemist Kevin Armbrust at the Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory at Mississippi State University personally received six calls from folks asking if it was safe to eat fish out of flooded waters.

It is a critical question in areas where residents supplement their diets with fresh-caught fish.

Armbrust reports that the lab worked closely with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Mississippi State Department of Health on guidelines to consider when consuming fish out of floodwaters. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency released that information late last week:

While there is no data showing that fish from the floodwaters are unsafe to eat, people should use common sense and observe the following precautions:

- Don't eat fish or crawfish that come out of an oil, gas or diesel slick.

- Don't eat fish or crawfish that don’t look normal. For example, fish with sores, tumors, or discoloration.

- Don’t eat fish or crawfish that don’t act normally. For example, fish that are gasping for breath at the surface, swimming erratically, or that are dead or dying.

- Don’t eat fish or crawfish that smell unusual--such as sewage, diesel or chemical odor.

- If they taste funny, throw them out.

- Handle fish and crawfish from floodwaters carefully. Avoid hand to mouth, nose or eye contact and wash hands thoroughly after handling uncooked fish or crawfish from flooded areas.

- Cook fish and crawfish thoroughly to kill any bacteria that may be present.

And MEMA also advises anyone thinking about fishing in floodwaters to be aware of several issues:

- In response to Executive Order 1053 issued by Gov. Haley Barbour, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks has closed all boating activity in counties affected by the recent flooding including: Adams, Bolivar, Claiborne, Coahoma, DeSoto, Jefferson, Humphreys, Issaquena, Sharkey, Tunica, Warren, Washington, Wilkinson, and Yazoo. This area will be expanded as needed.

- Floodwaters may have strong currents and unseen hazards under the surface of the water.

- Floodwaters often have high levels of bacteria as a result of flooded sewage systems and the decay of plant and animals that have been killed during the flood.

- Floodwaters may contain oil, gas, diesel, fertilizers or other chemicals.

MEMA’s best advice? It’s pretty simple: The safest thing to do is to avoid the flooded areas.

For additional information about the flood of 2011, visit the Mississippi State University Extension Services’ resource website at http://msucares.com/disaster/flooding/index.html.


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