After Washington issued its "Do Not Eat" advisory in February, Maryland's Department of the Environment and Department of Natural Resources quickly responded and issued public statements saying rockfish in Maryland are safe to eat. But neither addressed the alarming levels of PCBs that Washington found, so the ABC7 On Your Side Investigative Team did some digging.Everyone I know of, with the possible exception of Trevor, consumes rockfish filleted and skinned. Moreover, most people I know cut off the skin along with with a thin layer of fatty red meat near the skin, and remove the "blood line", the darker, fatty red meat wedge on top of the lateral line as well, because this meat is "muddy" tasting, and doesn't seem to preserve as well. Certainly some immigrant may have their own customs, and may consume more.
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Recent testing in Washington. (2015: 1200 parts per billion) found PCB levels 10 times higher than in Maryland (2010: 125 ppb) and Virginia (2008: 130 ppb).
Why the big difference? The ABC7 Investigative Team learned the answer may not be in the fish, but in the test. A PCB is a man-made industrial compound, and known carcinogen, found in the environment. When ingested by a fish, it's stored in fat under the skin. Washington tests fish with the skin. Maryland and Virginia cut it off.
Maryland's Department of the Environment (MDE) declined an interview with ABC7 On Your Side to discuss its testing practices, but said the skin is removed since that's how rockfish are often prepared. But MDE could not provide documentation proving that. A spokesman told ABC 7 News, it's assumed.
"We're not going to make any assumptions about how people consume the fish," explained Julia Christian, a spokesperson with D.C.'s Department of Energy and Environment -which conducted the tests.
To get the most accurate PCB levels, Federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, which Washington follows, suggests rockfish be tested with the skin. But that's only a suggestion. States can test how they want, which may explain the very different results.
PCBs are lipophilic, meaning they concentrate in the fat tissue in the fish, near the skin and in the belly fat, so it is generally advised to cut off and discard the most fatty areas of the fish.
I take issue with some of his technique, but the ideas are the same. I fillet, remove the rib cage, skin (leaving the red meat on the skin), then cut out the red lateral line meat with a "V" cut.
But I find it difficult to believe that the difference between 130 ppb and 1200 ppb is due to discarding the skin. I suspect it has more to do with testing a few fish, small ones living in the highly polluted Washington DC region during most of it's life, as opposed to Maryland Stripers which may migrate throughout the Bay over the course of a year.