Popular cobia fishing will survive advisory

Beaufort County has a coveted relationship with the cobia, a large gamefish considered by many to be the most fun to catch and the best to eat of anything found in South Carolina waters.

Port Royal Sound and the Broad River are among the best places on earth to pursue the cobia, and scores of boats are out there at this season doing just that.

A damper on this year's season came May 9 when the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control added the cobia to a list of fish it advises the public to eat in moderation because of mercury contamination.

The state advises people not to eat more than one meal per month of cobia. It is among five saltwater species that now carry the agency's warning. It is based on several years of collecting samples from fishing tournaments. Other saltwater fish on the list are the shark, swordfish, larger king mackerel and tilefish.

The public should heed the warning and put it in perspective.

Primarily, the art and sport of cobia fishing should not be diminished at all. The risk is only in eating the fish; catching them and enjoying other water activities, such as swimming and boating, is not at all restricted.

Mercury in fish is a national issue. The mercury comes from natural sources and from pollution. The largest source of the pollution is the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal. Coal is the most common fuel for generating electricity in the United States, producing 45 percent of the nation's power generation in 2009.

Frustration over the popular cobia being placed on an advisory list for consumption should not be directed at the state health department. The agency is doing its job. It's a job that has led to warnings for a variety of fish in a variety of waters being posted at public boating ramps throughout the state.

If the situation is to change, it will require a broad outlook, starting with how we produce the electricity we need. It's a matter of national energy policy, as well as how each individual and family influences that policy as consumers.

Meanwhile, the public should know what a warning issued by the state health department means.

For mercury consumption, it means that those at greatest risk are babies, children under 14, women who are nursing, women who are pregnant and women who plan to become pregnant, according to DHEC. These groups are warned to eat only one meal of freshwater fish each week from a waterbody without an advisory, to eat no fish from a waterbody with an advisory and to eat no king mackerel, shark, swordfish, tilefish or cobia.

None of that should hurt the popularity of cobia fishing here.

But it should make everyone pay closer attention to energy policy, as well as fish-consumption advisories.