New Brunswick

Floodwaters may have contaminated much of this season's fiddleheads

The Emergency Measures Organization and the Department of Health are warning that fiddleheads found growing in flooded areas may be contaminated and unfit to eat.

Harvester says it's not the first time government warned about contamination

Health officials warn that fiddleheads growing in flooded areas could be contaminated. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

A New Brunswick favourite may be off the menu for many people in the province this spring. 

The Emergency Measures Organization and the Department of Health are warning that fiddleheads found growing in flooded areas may be contaminated and unfit to eat.

"Fiddleheads which may have been exposed to floodwaters may not be safe to eat," said Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey, the regional medical officer of health. 

It's not clear exactly which areas are contaminated.

Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey, the regional medical officer of health, answers questions during a news conference Wednesday in Fredericton. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"We don't have a mechanism to be able to determine that in every area where fiddleheads grow in the wild, so we ask people to use their best judgment that if it's an area where there's been flooding, the safer option is not to consume it," Lamptey said.

Fiddleheads are harvested from riverbanks each year after the spring freshet, but this year's crop is at risk of containing contaminants from raw sewage, fuels and chemicals leaked into rivers during record-high floods. 

"Due to the extent of flooding in private and commercial properties, we do not recommend harvesting or buying wild edible plant,s which would have been budding or had their edible portions exposed to the floodwaters," said Lamptey 

Some fiddlehead harvesters agree with the warning for certain rivers. 

"Basically, all the St. John and the Jemseg," said Dwight Thornton, owner of Fiddlehead Heaven in Windsor. "But the Tobique and Restigouche, those are going to be some good fiddleheads."

"But it's going to hurt the people buying and selling that's for sure."

Fiddleheads play an important role in New Brunswick, as a beloved food and prominent cultural symbol. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Thornton said he's been picking fiddleheads for 56 years. Retired as of this year, he said it's not the first time the province has warned the spring delicacy might be contaminated. 

"They did this in 2010, too," said Thornton. 

The spring plant plays a large role in New Brunswick culture. In addition to being the main ingredient in dozens of seasonal dishes, fiddleheads is often used as a symbol of the province, featured on statues, road signs and the provincial crest. 

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