Find Out if your Catch is Safe for the Dinner Table

Photo: Jay Fleming

Deep fried, baked, broiled, shish-kabobed or raw, fish is delicious. It’s high in protein, low in fat and contains compounds that improve memory and brain function. But some fish harbor mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other toxins that can cause cancer and other health problems. Most anglers are familiar with size and bag limits, but fewer are aware of fish consumption advisories.

Consumption advisories are recommendations from state or local officials to either limit or refrain entirely from eating certain species. The problem comes up the food chain. Small fish eat plankton that has absorbed contaminants. Larger fish eat lots of smaller fish and the contaminants build up in the predator’s meat. Going up the food chain, the biggest fish will contain the most nasty stuff. Most states have extensive fish contaminant monitoring programs. Scientists analyze fish tissues for chemicals known to cause health problems. For example, Michigan biologists monitor fish for mercury, PCBs, chlorinated pesticides like DDT, dioxins and furans.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency works with states and tribes to develop local consumption advisories. To support this effort, EPA conducts and publishes research on fish contamination. The not-so- good-news: contaminants in fish are everywhere. The EPA’s most recent National Coastal Condition Assessment rated less than one percent of…

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