Dangers of mercury poisoning among northern Ontario anglers highlighted
Tournament angler Jason Doyon says dangerously high mercury levels affected his strength, memory and gait
A once avid eater of sport-caught fish is warning anglers in northern Ontario about the dangers of mercury poisoning.
Jason Doyon lives in Sault Ste Marie, and travels throughout northern Ontario competing in fishing tournaments.
Two years ago, Doyon started to feel unwell and said he developed tremors, memory problems and other issues.
"I had some severe muscle weakness and I felt like I was walking around intoxicated all the time," said Doyon. "Plus my mental acuity was foggy. I didn't know what was going on."
Visits with doctors and some specialists followed and it was determined the only thing that was out of tune in Doyon's body were the mercury levels.They were extremely high at 75. A good level is considered below 20, and preferably lower than 10.
Doyon said the the decision was then made to start chelation therapy and try and get as much of the mercury out of his system as possible. Chelation therapy is a chemical process in which a synthetic solution — EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) — is injected into the bloodstream to remove heavy metals and minerals from the body.
Doyon said the process worked.
"I started chelation therapy in June 2020 and I've done 15 treatments through to almost December," he said. "And since then, I've been feeling a lot better."
Before he was diagnosed, Doyon said he was eating a lot of fish, anywhere from three to four meals a week.
"I was fishing fairly regularly," said the active tournament angler. "So every time I was out, we were getting a fresh feed of walleye or salmon or perch or whitefish or lake trout or whatever. I would say on average during the open water and ice fishing seasons we were eating fish three to four times a week."
Doyon said before his diagnosis, he didn't take the provincial fish eating guidelines seriously. These guidelines show people how much fish they can safely eat monthly out of a given lake or river. There is both an online guide and a paper based booklet. Doyon said he was not too worried about following them.
"Yeah, I never believed in the guidelines," he said. "I always thought it was a bunch of hocus pocus but I knew that they existed. I would flip through them once or twice. And I always said to myself, 'oh, jeez, if I listen to that, I should already be dead and gone.' And behold, I should have listened to it because I became very sick."
Doyon said since the therapy his mercury level has dropped and he feels he has made a 90 per cent recovery.
"I have almost no muscle weakness now and I have no problems with my gait anymore," he said. "That's all been eliminated since my last treatment."
Doyon has become an advocate in the angling community for being careful about eating fish and getting checked for mercury levels. He has been speaking with anglers and posting online about his experience and his treatment.
He said one of his angling friends was recently diagnosed with high mercury levels despite showing no effects.
"The doctor was astonished at his levels of mercury," said Doyon of his friend. "His level was almost 86 or 87, I believe. So he stopped eating fish as well. And that's the thing with mercury, some people show minimal effects and some other people can have lots of effects."
Doyon said many people who check their favourite lake on the provincial fishing guidelines are shocked to see the level of contaminants in some of the fish. He said those contaminants can include mercury and other toxins such as PCBs and pesticides.
"Having this experience has really changed the way I do business," said Doyon. "I don't even like to fish where the mercury contamination is high now, and I follow the sensitive population guidelines, due to my adverse effects. This was an experience I don't intend to repeat."
The online guide to eating Ontario fish is found at Eating Ontario Fish.