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Safe Fish Consumption

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What Fish are Safe to Eat?

Fish are an important part of diet because they provide minerals, vitamins, proteins, and fatty acids. However, pollution in our waterways results in the contamination of fish populations. Common contaminants include mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — compounds linked to neurological disorders and other health effects. It is important, especially for children and women of childbearing age, to learn about healthy fish consumption.

The Ecology Center has been an active proponent of healthy fish consumption, and persuaded the state of Michigan to toughen its fish consumption advisories in 1998. We continue to work for a safe food supply by supporting state and regional campaigns to reduce pollution in the Great Lakes and to provide adequate information to consumers on which fish to eat.

The following resources provide information about which fish are safe to eat and the recommended consumptions amounts — following their advice will minimize your risk of harmful exposures.

  • Michigan Fish Advisory
    The Michigan Fish Advisory lists consumption advisories for sports fish in Michigan’s lakes, streams, and rivers
  • Tuna Calculator
    The environmental Working Group, a national environmental advocacy organization, created a “Tuna Calculator” to help assess how much tuna is safe
  • Fish Consumption Guide
    Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) provides fact sheets about how to obtain the healthy benefits of fish consumption while avoiding dangerous exposures to pollutants
  • Fish Consumption in the Great Lakes
    The Great Lakes Commission is a binational agency of the US and Canada dedicated to protect the Great Lakes and regional natural resources
  • Fish Consumption Calculator
    The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy provides a fish consumption calculator that allows you to determine how much specific types of fish are safe to consume
  • Farm-Raised Fish
    When selecting healthy fish options, it is important to consider how a fish was raised — in the wild or on a fish farm

Michigan Fish Advisory

The Michigan Fish Advisory lists consumption advisories for sports fish in Michigan’s lakes, streams, and rivers. The advisories are based on the amount of contaminants (such as mercury) in the fish populations. Not all water bodies in the state have been tested for all chemicals, so the data is necessarily incomplete. However, it provides the most comprehensive information on fish contamination in the state, recommended limits on consumption for the general population and vulnerable groups (women of childbearing age and children), and methods to safely cook and clean fish to reduce exposure to contaminants.

For more, go to the Michigan Department of Community Health Fish Advisory website.

Environmental Working Group: Tuna Calculator

The Environmental Working Group, a national environmental advocacy organization, created a “Tuna Calculator” to help assess how much tuna is safe. They have been leading critics of the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) mercury advisories because they do not adequately protect from unsafe exposures.

Use the Tuna Calculator here.

Physicians for Social Responsibility Fish Consumption Guide

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) provides fact sheets about how to obtain the healthy benefits of fish consumption while avoiding dangerous exposures to pollutants. Here are some of PSR recommendations for healthy fish consumption:

  • Serve children “chunk light” canned tuna. Canned albacore and fresh tuna may contain too much mercury for children, even in kid-size portions.
  • Eat a variety of fish and seafood that have the lowest mercury levels such as catfish, freshwater trout, scallops, pollock, haddock, sardines, halibut, crawfish, tilapia, perch and canned chunk light tuna. You can eat up to 2 servings per week (6 ounces = one adult serving, 1–2 ounces = one toddler serving, 2–3 ounces = one older child serving)
  • Fish to avoid completely due to high levels of mercury are mackerel (king), shark, swordfish, and tilefish.
  • Follow local and state fish advisories.

View the Physicians for Social Responsibility fact sheet on healthy fish.

Fish Consumption in the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes Commission is a binational agency of the US and Canada dedicated to protect the Great Lakes and regional natural resources. Their “Human Health and the Environment” webpage provides information about fish consumption, critical contaminants in fish, methods to reduce exposures, and benefits of breast milk for infants despite the presence of contaminants.

Learn more at the Great Lakes Commission website.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy: Fish Consumption Calculator

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy provides a fish consumption calculator that allows you to determine how much of specific types of fish are safe to consume. By typing in your weight and choice of fish, the calculator will give you the safe weekly consumption amount, based on EPA guidelines. Smart Fish Calculator

Concerns about Farm-Raised Fish

When selecting healthy fish options, it is important to consider how a fish was raised — in the wild or on a fish farm. A study published in Science (2004) concluded that concentration of harmful organic contaminants (such as PCBs and dioxin) in farm raised salmon are significantly higher than wild salmon, posing a health threat that outweighs the benefits of its consumption.

In addition, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) commissioned a study of the levels of PCBs in farm raised salmon sold in US grocery stores. The results showed that farm raised fish had PCB levels 14 times greater than wild salmon. The elevated levels are likely due to the food pellets fed to the farmed fish — the pellets are made of ground-up smaller fish. Consuming high levels of PCBs poses a health risk because these chemicals cause neurological impacts and are probable carcinogens. The EWG recommends the following guideline for consumers:

Choose wild and canned salmon instead of farmed, and eat an eight-ounce serving of farmed salmon no more than once a month. Trim fat from fish before cooking, and choose broiling, baking, or grilling over frying, as these cooking methods allow the PCB-laden fat to cook off the fish. Click here to view the EWG report.

It is important to note that the origin of the farmed salmon determines its likely level of contamination. Salmon farmed in Chile and Washington State tend to have lower levels of organic contaminants, while those farmed in Canada and Scotland have higher levels. A recent bill passed in Congress requires the labeling of salmon (origin and farmed/wild), making it easier for consumers to make better informed decisions about salmon consumption.  A short guide (PDF) by Physicians for Social Responsibility outlines healthy salmon consumption.