The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) today announced a precautionary fish consumption advisory for smallmouth bass from Abrams Creek and the Little River within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The advisory on Abrams Creek extends from its mouth on Chilhowee Reservoir upstream to Abrams Falls. The advisory on Little River begins at the national park boundary upstream of Townsend near river mile 35 and extends upstream to the area called “The Sinks” near mile 41.5.
TDEC advises that pregnant or nursing mothers and children avoid eating smallmouth bass from the portion of Abrams Creek or Little River included in the advisory. All others should limit consumption of smallmouth bass to one meal per month. Other recreational activities on these streams such as kayaking, swimming, wading, and catch-and-release fishing carry no risk from mercury. There is no advisory on trout, which were found to have generally low levels of mercury.
“We provide these advisories so people can make informed decisions about whether or not to consume fish they catch,” Greg Young, deputy commissioner of TDEC, said. “Precautionary fish consumption advisories are directed to sensitive populations such as children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and those who may eat fish frequently from the same body of water.”
The advisory is the result of cooperative fish tissue sampling and analysis by U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service as part of a study of mercury concentrations in fish from national parks. Samples at multiple stations were collected in 2015 and 2016. Fish collected from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park included blacknose dace; brook, brown, and rainbow trout; and largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Mercury levels in trout and dace were generally low in the U.S. Geological Survey study. Only smallmouth bass in Abrams Creek and Little River exceeded mercury trigger points recommended by both the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration (0.3 mg/kg). While mercury levels in smallmouth bass from the Middle Prong Little Pigeon River near Pittman Center were elevated in some fish, average levels were below the trigger.
In 2018, National Park Service staff collected smallmouth bass from the West Prong Little Pigeon River upstream of Pigeon Forge which were then analyzed by TDEC. This stream was targeted because it was not included in the 2015-2016 U.S. Geological Survey study. Mercury levels in these fish were well below the trigger point.
TDEC considers the source of mercury within Great Smoky Mountains National Park to be atmospheric deposition. According to the EPA, atmospheric deposition due to the global burning of coal is the most frequent reason for elevated levels of mercury in fish. TDEC will post warning signs at public access points and will work with the National Park Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to communicate this information to the public.