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Catawba Riverkeeper Collects Fish Tissue for First Ever PCB Analysis on Lake James

Catawba Riverkeeper Collects Fish Tissue for First Ever PCB Analysis on Lake James

In collaborative effort with NC DENR, channel catfish from each arm of lake collected for complete PCB analysis

Catawba Riverkeeper Collects Fish Tissue for First Ever PCB Analysis on Lake James

Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins pulling up a catfish from a trot line on Lake James.

On September 3rd and 4th, Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins and NC DENR Environmental Specialist Jeff DeBerardinis collected channel catfish in what will be the first data for PCBs in fish tissue from Lake James. Separate sample sets were collected from the lake's Catawba and Linville arms, which are connected by a narrow canal.

The analysis will look at all 209 varieties, or congeners, of PCBs, which are a known carcinogen banned in the late 1970s but still in the environment because of their resistance to breaking down and their ability to accumulate in soil and fish tissue. The state's PCB testing has typically focused on the most commonly produced PCB congeners, known as Arochlors. However, these comprise only 10% of PCBs, and after entering the natural environment, Arochlors slightly change into other PCB congeners that are not detected in the test method that targets only Arochlors. Unfortunately, a 209 congeners test is very expensive. But with generous support also from the Lake James Environmental Association (LJEA) and Community of Lake James (CLJ), Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation will be able to perform the first PCB testing (of any method) on Lake James. Many of the pictures here come from LJEA's Jack Raker, who took many of the pictures here and advised us on good places to set trot lines. Thank you!

Setting trot line

CRF would also like to thank NC DENR and Jeff DeBerardinis, who collects fish from all over the state for analysis. Unfortunately, a lot of waterways need testing, which is very expensive and time consuming. With CRF, LJEA and CLJ all able to provide funding for lab analysis, NC DENR was able to provide DeBerardinis, who brought equipment and invaluable experience. And with his presence, NC DENR can be assured that all sampling was performed with quality controls and assurances.

Catfish were caught using trot lines, each approximately 150 feet long and with 20-30 hooks (pictured right). Chopped shad were used as bait. The lines were set Wednesday morning and afternoon and checked throughout the morning on Thursday. In a cove in the Catawba arm, one dozen jugs were also set for an hour Wednesday evening but caught no fish.

Sampling sites for catfish

Sampling sites in the Catawba arm (yellow) and Linville arm (red).

After sitting for 18 hours in the Catawba arm, trot lines at three sites caught seven channel catfish and one blue catfish. The three sites in the Linville arm caught one channel catfish and one blue catfish. Blue catfish were released, as was one behemoth channel catfish (pictured left; measured 785 mm or 31") too large for analysis. Kept individuals ranged from 525 mm to 660 mm (21" to 26").

Behemoth Channel CatfishIn performing fish sampling, tissue from at least three individuals can be fileted into a single composite sample for better data. The individuals need to be in a certain size/age range -- the smallest must be at least 75% the length of the largest. Additionally, because PCBs are lipophilic (build up in fat/tissue; like mercury), testing is generally targeted to occur in late summer. Samples could also be run for mercury analysis.

Lab results should be available this fall. With that data, State Toxicologist Dr. Ken Rudo will then determine whether a fish advisory should be issued.

Testing is absolutely critical to ensure that fish are safe to eat. Folks love catfish in particular to fry up in filets and nuggets. Children and women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of PCBs, mercury and other contaminants. In 2010, the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation sampled catfish and analyzed for PCBs on Mountain Island Lake. The findings led to additional state testing and ultimately consumption advisories to let people know that certain species (namely catfish and bass) should be consumed in moderation or not at all.

Chopped Shad (Bait)

Chopped shad used as bait.


Baited hooks on a trot line

Baited hooks on trot line.


Setting end of trot line

Dropping the end of a trot line near Dry Creek.

NC DENR's Jeff DeBerardinis

NC DENR's Jeff DeBerardinis with Linville Gorge in the background.


First Channel Catfish (Linville arm)

First and only channel catfish on Linville arm.

Catfish on ice

Catfish on ice ready for processing.

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Jan 25, 2017 NC Riverkeeper Report
From the perspectives of 12 NC Riverkeepers, this report discusses how multiple environmental issues pose challenges in the pursuit of clean, plentiful water. Whether you are in North Carolina or downstream in South Carolina, read this report about the state of environmental enforcement.
Dec 13, 2016 Community Foundation of Gaston County grants $5,000 to CRF for Riverkeeper Program
The Community Foundation will fund Catawba Riverkeeper's work in Gaston County.
Dec 12, 2016 A Successful Launch of our Water Education Program at Great Falls Elementary
Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in partnership with 4-H Clemson Cooperative Extension successfully completed our pilot Education Outreach Program with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students from Great Falls Elementary.
Sep 27, 2016 Lake Wateree Fall Cleanup a Sweeping Success
86 volunteers collected 5,490 pounds of trash from Lake Wateree
Jun 13, 2016 Dozens of Youth Reached in Water Education Outreach Program Pilot Lessons
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Click here to fill out a pollution report or to report water pollution to Catawba Riverkeeper by phone, call 1-888-679-9494 or 704-679-9494.  In addition, to informing your Riverkeeper, you should also report spills or contamination to federal, state and local environmental officials.

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Fish Advisories

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Fish consumption advisories have been issued throughout the Catawba-Wateree River basin.  Many of these advisories are the result of testing initiated by Catawba Riverkeeper and confirmed by state and local officials.  For a chart identifying fish types with the applicable advisories for the Charlotte area, click here.   For more information about the fish advisories, click here.

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