Restrictions Lifted on Fish and Wildlife Consumption in the Maumee AOC

A photo of a common snapping turtle, the most recent animal to have consumption restrictions removed in the Maumee AOC.Earlier this autumn, the Maumee Area of Concern achieved a major milestone: Beneficial Use Impairment 1, Restrictions on Fish and Wildlife Consumption, was removed! In sharing this achievement, we wanted to offer a refresher on what we do as the facilitating organization, what BUIs are, and why this removal matters.

The Maumee Area of Concern (AOC) was established in 1987 by an amendment to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, designating a portion of the lower Maumee River and nearby Lake Erie tributaries as a region that needed special attention. The Maumee AOC was given a report card of beneficial use impairments (BUIs): ways of measuring environmental damage. Some example BUIs include “Restrictions on Fish and Wildlife Consumption,” “Beach Closings” or “Degradation of Aesthetics.” Once restoration criteria are met, a BUI can be removed. And once all BUIs are removed from an AOC, it can be delisted – the end goal of all AOCs.

In order to develop the Maumee AOC’s BUIs, the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG) set up a Maumee Remedial Action (RAP) Committee. In 2007, the RAP Committee determined that that their best path forward would be to form a new nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and to leave the umbrella of TMACOG. Thus Partners for Clean Streams was born! (If you’re interested, we’ve told the fuller version of the story of PCS’s founding in a Currents article earlier this year.)

Now as the designated facilitating organization, PCS helps coordinate the Maumee AOC Advisory Committee (MAAC), which is made up of government officials, businesses, industries, universities, and other interested individuals with a passion for fishable, swimmable, and drinkable water. Part of our job is to report out on restoration project progress and major milestones in our AOC, like BUI removal!

So what does it mean that BUI 1, Restrictions on Fish and Wildlife Consumption, was removed for our AOC this year? The Ohio Lake Erie Commission and Ohio EPA made this recommendation because the conditions now meet restoration criteria that include fish and wildlife consumption that’s no more restrictive than elsewhere outside of the Maumee AOC. This means the fish and wildlife meet safe consumption thresholds used by the Ohio Department of Health in the Ohio Sport Fish Consumption Advisory.

From the recommendation summary:

“All fish species in all waters of the Maumee AOC have been identified as safe to consume at a frequency of one meal per month, or less restrictive, thus meeting the BUI Restoration Target for fish.

“Snapping turtle muscle (meat) in the Ottawa River of the Maumee AOC are below the contaminant levels designated as safe to consume at a frequency of one meal per month or less restrictive, thus meeting the BUI Restoration Target for wildlife, even though an advisory remains as a precaution to minimize the possible exposure risk to contaminated fat bodies while cleaning/preparing snapping turtles for consumption.”

BUI 1 is the second beneficial use impairment to be recommended for removal among the initial 10 BUIs identified as impaired in the Maumee AOC. The first was BUI 12, Added Costs to Agriculture or Industry, which was removed in 2015.