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State Task Force to Probe Contaminated Fish

Times Staff Writer

Faced with continuing reports of contaminated fish in California waters, state Health Director Kenneth W. Kizer is forming a multi-agency task force to examine the human health risks and to propose possible solutions.

“This task force is being formed in response to growing concerns about chemical contamination of fish along California’s coastline and in its lakes and rivers,” Kizer said in Sacramento.

The announcement came nine weeks after the Department of Health Services issued guidelines urging fishermen not to eat white croakers or the liver of any fish caught in Santa Monica or San Pedro bays.

Warning to Public

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DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been found in the white croakers, sometimes called tom cod. The public was also urged not to eat any fish caught near White’s Point outfall on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach Harbor or Cabrillo Pier in Los Angeles Harbor.

The public--especially pregnant women, women who are nursing and young children--were also urged not to eat more than one meal per month of any local sport fish.

While those guidelines remain in effect, the department stressed that the guidelines do not cover other fish from other areas. The department said sport and commercial fishing boats not operating near sewer outfalls and the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors are “less likely” to catch contaminated fish.

Health services spokesman William J. Ihle said the clarification was issued after representatives of the sportfishing industry complained that their business was being hurt.

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Concern of Industry

“The sportfishing industry was afraid they were being painted with the same brush as people who fish off the pier were. They did contact us and indicate there were some problems. People weren’t buying their fish and weren’t going out on party boats,” Ihle said.

Besides Santa Monica and San Pedro bays, there have been concerns of contaminated mussels from Elkhorn Slough and Moss Landing Harbor in Monterey Bay. In the past, striped bass in the San Francisco-Sacramento Delta have been found to be contaminated with mercury. Concern has also been voiced about possible selenium contamination of fish in the Grassland area in Central California.

The task force, Kizer said, will complete its report in six months to a year and forward the findings to Gov. George Deukmejian.

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The panel will include representatives from departments of fish and game, food and agriculture and water resources, the state Water Resources Control Board, the Southern California Coastal Water Research Program, the California Conference of Local Health Officers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the University of California’s marine biology programs.


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