© 2021 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Debate over best way to warn of dangers of eating fish from Onondaga Lake

Courtesy Hannah Ring
Citizens Campaign for the Environment
Two different signs warning about the dangers of eating fish from Onondaga Lake

Local environmental activists are putting pressure on Onondaga County to change advisory signs about eating fish caught in Onondaga Lake.

Everyone agrees the fish in Onondaga Lake are a testament to a legacy of pollution, and shouldn’t be a staple in anyone’s diet -- especially pregnant women and children.

But how to get that message across is at the root of a dispute between Onondaga County and a coalition of advocates and public interest organizations. They groups want the County to change its sign strategy. Currently, the county plans to put signs discouraging eating fish along several popular fishing spots. It’s what the signs look like that concerns Hannah Ring of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

“Our biggest concern is the the county signs do not have adequate information. The messaging on them is not clear the the fish can be harmful. It says they can be harmful, but doesn’t say that women and children shouldn’t eat them and people shouldn’t be eating them,” Ring said.

Credit Courtesy Hannah Ring
Onodaga Lake

Ring says there is an alternative to what she calls the “happy fish” graphics on the county signs. The fishing committee of the Onondaga Lake Watershed Partnership came up with a more menacing picture of a fish on a plate with a line across it, including graphics of a pregnant woman and children, and verbiage in four languages.

But Onondaga County Environmental Director Travis Glazier says the county will stick with the original concept.

“What we’re using is a sign which is already used on the Hudson River, it’s been shown to be effective. It’s featured by the EPA. It"s approved by the New York State Department of Health. So it’s really they’re making much ado about nothing,” said Glazier.

And Glazier says signs should be a last gasp strategy to discourage people from eating fish that still contain harmful levels of mercury and dioxins.

But both sides agree that among the biggest concerns is the number of refugees from Syracuse area that rely on fish in their diets. Glazier says refugee groups especially are trying to get the message across to new americans about the danger of eating fish out of the lake.