Are the fish safe to eat? An examination of Lake Nipigon fish consumption guidelines through the perspective of Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek
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Mercury (Hg) is a contaminant of concern when consuming fish from freshwater lakes. It is known to persist in high concentrations in piscivorous fishes such as Walleye which are commonly consumed by people. The people from the community of Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek (BZA) Rock Bay have harvested fish from the Lake Nipigon basin for millennia and have observed changes to the Lake, particularly those resulting from resource development and extraction. Large scale hydroelectric projects and mining have created concerns over the safety of eating Walleye in the Lake Nipigon basin from traditional fishing locations. While fish consumption guidelines are posted by the provincial government for certain areas, a lack of robust data, trust, transparency and communication about the risks of exposure to consumers has rendered these guidelines largely ineffective for community use. In this study, data collection was led by community fishermen to collect fish from traditional fishing locations to produce community driven fish consumption guidelines. In general, fish consumption guidelines produced from community sampling were less restrictive than those posted by the provincial government where comparable. However, community-based fish consumption guidelines were more restrictive in riverine environments than lake sampling locations. As a result of having engaged in data collection and monitoring for fish contaminants, BZA has developed greater trust and interest in fish consumption guidelines while greatly enhancing its lands and resources program to further study concerns on Lake Nipigon.