Fishing rules contradict Kam Lake arsenic advisory

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The NWT’s chief public health officer says fishing guidelines for Kam Lake produced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources don’t “jive” with catch-and-release recommendations made in his recent public health advisory on arsenic.

Dr. Andre Corriveau recommends residents catch and release fish from Kam Lake due to high concentrations of arsenic in the water, although NWT sport fishing regulations allow people to keep fish from the lake. NNSL file photo

Dr. Andre Corriveau warned residents on April 10 of high arsenic levels in Kam Lake, relying on decades-old data that put the concentration of arsenic in that water at more than 50 times safe drinking levels.

More recent data from Miramar Northern Mining Ltd. from last fall shows the concentration of arsenic in Kam Lake is actually closer to 20 times safe drinking water levels, although the health advisory does not reflect the latest information.

As a result, Corriveau’s advisory urged residents “not to use Kam Lake for swimming, fishing or harvesting of nearby berries or other edible plants.”

It went on to say: “As an additional precaution, fish caught from such lakes should not be consumed but catch-and-release fishing can be done.”

However, NWT sport fishing regulations dated April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018 place no restrictions on keeping fish caught from Kam Lake.

It shows residents may keep up to four walleye daily from Kam Lake and seven overall between June 7 and March 31 but makes no specific warning about arsenic levels there.

Several other fish species can be found in Kam Lake as well, including Northern pike and lake whitefish.

“I wasn’t aware of that specific recommendation,” Corriveau said. “We have recommended catch and release for all the lakes that have high levels of arsenic.”

He said that’s because he doesn’t have data on the contaminant level in fish in Kam Lake, so he can’t confirm whether they are safe to eat.

“Arsenic is not a contaminant that accumulates normally in fish,” Corriveau said. “But there might be other contaminants that haven’t been tested for, that we don’t have data on, in lakes that have been impacted by industrial pollution.”

Corriveau added he needs to speak to the environment department about the discrepancy.

“It doesn’t jive with what we’re recommending,” he said.

Judy McLinton, spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the fishing regulations were published April 1, before Corriveau’s advisory on arsenic was released.

“The Northwest Territories Fishery Regulations are federal regulations and changes to the regulations must be done by Fisheries and Oceans Canada,” she stated in an e-mail.

Yellowknifer requested several times to discuss the issue with someone from the department, but requests for an interview were not answered.

McLinton instead sent Yellowknifer a link to Corriveau’s public health advisory on arsenic.

Another spokesperson for the department, Ella Wray, later told Yellowknifer changes to NWT fishing regulations will be presented to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and will include arsenic levels in fish in Kam Lake.

When asked, she did not directly say whether the department already has any data on the level of arsenic in fish.

“ENR is collaborating with the University of Alberta to study concentrations of contaminants in fish from several high use and potentially impacted lakes in the Yellowknife area,” Wray replied. “This includes Kam Lake. Results are expected in early 2019.”

She said the department is also working with Health and Social Services to share timely data about arsenic in Yellowknife lakes with residents.