It used to be that if you fell into the Androscoggin, you had to go to the nearest hospital. The water was so full of bacteria and toxic chemicals that many people were (and many still are) frightened of the river that flowed through their backyards. But we've come a long way.
As the Androscoggin has changed over
the last few decades to become the beautiful river we see today,
questions nobody would have asked before are being asked all 'round:
where can we swim in the Androscoggin? and also Where can we
eat the fish? Both Maine and New Hampshire collect and interpret many different kinds of data to answer these questions, but often the answers are hard to find or not well publicized. Liam Pott, one of the two interns from the Quebec-Labrador Foundation who worked with the Watershed Council this summer, spent some time deciphering the information. Liam did his research with the help of Barry Mower from the Maine DEP and Bob Baczynski from the New Hampshire DES. He focused on the two questions above: swimming and fishing. Here is what he has learned.
There are many different uses for our surface waters, including fishing, swimming, boating, drinking water supply, industrial coolant, and the support of aquatic life. Each of these uses requires a different quality of water, and different factors are important for each. For swimming, we are worried about bacteria levels (specifically, the numbers of a group of bacteria called fecal coliform bacteria) in the water. This is the reason that the average swimming pool is so heavily chlorinated - to kill bacteria. For fishing, we are not so much worried about bacteria levels as we are about chemicals that bioaccumulate. Bioaccumulation is a process where one trout may eat ten or fifteen smaller fish. Though the prey have a low concentration of some chemical, say mercury, the predator will absorb all 15 doses of that toxin. Thus, while the prey (minnows) would be safe to eat (if you could get a fork into them!), the predator fish might accumulate too much of a certain toxin to be edible.
The chemicals of concern in the Androscoggin are PCBs (polychlorinated biphenols) and dioxin, which are carcinogenic; and mercury, which damages the nervous system. Warm water species tend to have higher levels of mercury in fish tissue than cold water species. Mercury also accumulates over time in fish, so two two-pounders will contain less mercury than one four-pounder.
Now that we know why, here's where. Though the number of restricted-swimming areas may seem too many, keep in mind that each segment is short (the longest being 22 river miles) and that these waters represent less than 7% of the total river mileage in our watershed! You could kayak the entire length of the Sunday, Ellis, Bear or Swift rivers. You could safely swim from Gorham all the way to Lewiston, without a care in the world - though you might need a few CLIF bars in between!
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Androscoggin River for one mile above the Gorham-Berlin town line.
Spears Stream in Peru;
Androscoggin River for one mile below Livermore;
Nezinscot River through Buckfield and Turner;
House Brook and Lively Brook in Turner;
Logan Brook in Auburn;
Stetson Brook n Lewiston;
No Name Brook in Lewiston;
Jepson Brook in Lewiston;
PennesseewasseeLake Outlet in Norway;
Little Androscoggin River for three miles below South Paris;
Little Androscoggin River for one mile below Mechanic Falls;
Little Androscoggin River for one mile in Auburn;
Androscoggin River from Lewiston to the Brunswick Dam.
Flyfishing the confluence of the Ellis and Androscoggin Rivers
Fish Consumption Advisories:
In ALL INLAND WATERS, mercury contamination from fossil fuel combustion in the Midwest is a concern (it gets deposited from the atmosphere, much like acid rain). A good way to minimize exposure is to eat smaller, younger fish rather than older, larger fish because mercury accumulates in fish over time.
-Young children and women of childbearing
age should limit consumption to NO MORE than one meal a month
of freshwater fish.
-Other individuals should limit consumption to NO MORE than four meals a month of freshwater fish.
NO FISH should be consumed from the ANDROSCOGGIN RIVER downstream of Berlin up to the state line, due to PCBs and dioxin.
In ALL INLAND WATERS, mercury contamination is a concern.
WARNING ABOUT EATING FRESHWATER FISH:
Warning: Mercury in Maine freshwater fish may harm the
babies of pregnant
and nursing mothers, and young children.
SAFE EATING GUIDELINES
It's hard to believe that fish that
looks, smells, and tastes fine may not be safe to eat. But the
truth is that fish in Maine lakes, ponds, and rivers have mercury
in them. Other states have this problem too. Mercury in the air
settles into the waters. It then builds up in fish. For this reason,
older fish have higher levels of mercury than younger fish. Fish
(like pickerel and bass) that eat other fish have the highest
Small amounts of mercury can harm a
brain starting to form or grow. That is why unborn and nursing
babies, and young children are most at risk. Too much mercury
can affect behavior and learning. Mercury can harm older children
and adults, but it takes larger amounts. It may cause numbness
in hands and feet or changes in vision. The Safe Eating Guidelines
identify limits to protect everyone.
Warning: Some Maine waters are polluted, requiring
additional limits to eating fish.
Fish caught in some Maine waters have high levels of PCBs, Dioxins or DDT in them. These chemicals can cause cancer and other health effects. The Bureau of Health recommends additional fish consumption limits on the waters listed below. Remember to check the mercury guidelines. If the water you are fishing is listed below, check the mercury guideline above and follow the most limiting guidelines.
SAFE EATING GUIDELINES
Do not eat any fish from
striped bass, bluefish and lobster tomalley
call (207)-287-6455 or go to:
Revised August 29, 2000
Environmental Toxicology Program
Maine Bureau of Health