While most Ohio sport fish are safe to eat, low levels of chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury have been found in some fish from certain waters. To ensure the continued good health of Ohioans, the Ohio Department of Health offers an advisory for how often these fish can be safely eaten. An advisory is advice, and should not be viewed as law or regulation. It is intended to help anglers and their families make educated choices about: where you fish, what types of fish you eat, how to determine the amount and frequency of fish you consume and how you prepare fish for cooking.
By following these advisories, you can get the health benefits of eating fish and reduce unwanted contaminants.
For an adult, the serving size is eight ounces uncooked or six ounces cooked. For children under age six, the serving size is three ounces uncooked or two ounces cooked.
This advisory covers only sport fish caught and consumed by Ohio anglers. Safety regulations and advisories for fish in the market place are the responsibility of the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most kinds of fish on the market are safe and numerous health organizations encourage consumption of up to 12 ounces of fish/week.
Based upon national advisory information issued by FDA, the following species of fish could pose health problems for some individuals. Avoid these kinds of fish if you are concerned about your exposure to chemical contaminants:
- King mackerel
- Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
- Orange roughy
- Bigeye tuna
U.S. EPA and FDA have issued an advisory for women who might become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers and young children. U.S. EPA and FDA recommend that women of childbearing age and children limit their intake of fish, including store-bought fish and tuna, to two to three meals/week (8-12 oz. of fish/week for an adult woman). For more information about FDA's fish consumption advice, see fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm.
These are usually made from fish low in contaminants.
Ohio's fish samples are analyzed for several contaminants, most importantly mercury and PCBs, as those two contaminants are found most often in fish at levels of concern. Several metals including arsenic, cadmium, lead and selenium are looked for in addition to mercury. Samples are also analyzed for pesticides, including aldrin, dieldrin, lindane, DDT and its breakdown products, endrin, endosulfan, heptachlor, methoxychlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex and nonachlor. Except in a few special cases on the advisory list, mercury and PCBs are responsible for advisories on Ohio sport fish.
Yes. Because PCBs and mercury affect different body processes, it is considered safe to eat a fish that has an advisory due to mercury and another fish that has an advisory due to PCBs, even if they have the same meal frequency suggested. However, if you eat any fish that has an advisory due to a particular contaminant, you should not eat another fish within the advised length of time that is listed for that contaminant, regardless of the species or location. For example, if you eat a fish that has a one/month recommended frequency for mercury, you should not eat another sport caught fish that is listed as one/month for mercury, even if the other fish is a different species caught at a different place.
One week’s consumption of fish does not change the level of contaminants in the body much at all. If you eat a lot of fish one week, you can cut back for the next week or two. Just make sure you average the recommended amount/week.
Fish taken from rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs throughout Ohio often have small amounts of chemical contaminants. Limiting the number of sport fish meals eaten ensures that the contaminants do not build up in your body to levels that may be harmful. Data collected from lakes and rivers in Ohio show that a statewide advisory of one meal/week of most sport-caught fish is appropriate
All lakes that have fish with higher levels of contaminants are listed in the Ohio Sport Fish Consumption Advisory booklet. If you don't see the public lake where you fish in the booklet, then you may safely consume the fish you catch from the lake according to the general advisory. A complete list of lakes that have been sampled for contaminated fish can be viewed on Ohio EPA’s fish consumption advisory webpage or by contacting Ohio EPA.
Ohio EPA evaluates 36 fish tissue contaminants to decide whether to issue a fish consumption advisory. You cannot see, smell or taste these fish contaminants at levels that can affect your health. Therefore, a lake can look dirty, yet the fish in it can be uncontaminated. Conversely, a lake can look clean and the fish can be contaminated and require an advisory. Some things that cause a lake to seem dirty, such as sediment that makes the water look muddy, or bacteria and algae (microscopic plants) that can produce an odor, do not contaminate fish tissue. Therefore, you cannot tell if there should be a fish advisory by whether the lake looks or smells dirty.
Fish can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. Fish are generally low in fat and high in protein. Fish contain many vitamins and minerals, and are the primary food source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important during fetal brain and eye development. Omega-3 fatty acids also help to prevent heart disease in adults. For the American Heart Association’s recommendation on eating fish, please visit healthyforgood.heart.org/Eat-smart/Articles/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids.
We are NOT recommending that you stop eating sport fish, except where Do Not Eat is shown in the advisory. Eating fish regularly offers several health benefits. You will gain those benefits if you follow this fish advisory information carefully to choose safer places to fish; pick safer species to eat; trim and cook your catch correctly; and follow the recommended meal frequency. At the same time, you will reduce your exposure to possible contaminants
U.S. EPA and FDA have issued an advisory for women of child-bearing age and children. The FDA recommends that women of child-bearing age and children limit their intake of fish, including store bought fish and canned tuna, to two to three average meals/week (8-12 ounces of fish/week for adults and children over age 10, smaller amounts for younger children). Albacore (white) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to four ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna/week. Because tuna steak generally contains higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna, when choosing two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to four ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak/week. For more information about FDA's fish consumption advice, including information about tuna consumption, see fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm.
Contaminants that are found in some Ohio fish include PCBs, pesticides and metals such as lead and methyl mercury. The contaminants responsible for most advisories are methyl mercury and PCBs.
Mercury is a metal that occurs in nature. It does not break down, but cycles between land, air and water. Mercury may be released to the atmosphere by active volcanoes, coal-burning power plants and burning of industrial or household wastes. Bacteria in sediments convert mercury to methyl mercury, an organic compound. Methyl mercury builds up in fish through the food chain. Nearly all the mercury found in fish is methyl mercury.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are man-made oils that were once used in carbonless copying paper and in electrical equipment such as capacitors, transformers and fluorescent light ballasts. PCBs break down very slowly in the environment. PCBs tend to stay in sediments and build up in fish through the food chain.
The levels of these compounds found in Ohio fish are not known to cause immediate severe sickness. Long-lasting contaminants such as PCBs and mercury can build up in your body over time. It may take months or years of regularly eating contaminated fish to build up amounts that are a health concern. Health problems that may result from the contaminants in fish range from small, hard to detect health changes to birth defects, as well as mental and physical retardation in newborns. Mothers who eat highly contaminated fish for many years before becoming pregnant may have children who are slower to develop and learn. Therefore, women who plan to become pregnant should follow the fish consumption advice given to pregnant and nursing women for several years before becoming pregnant. It takes up to six years or more for the body to get rid of PCBs, and up to one year to get rid of mercury.
The advisories that protect sensitive populations also protect all other members of the public.
Choose smaller fish (within the legal size limit). Smaller fish within a species tend to have fewer contaminants than older, larger fish, and are sometimes tastier and more tender.
Choose leaner fish. Fish that are higher in fat — Channel Catfish and Carp, for example — will likely have more fat and may have higher levels of PCBs and similar chemicals in their bodies. Yellow Perch, Sunfish and Crappies are examples of lean fish.
Trim and cook your fish properly to reduce risk. This is important because all meal advice given in the advisory assumes that this has been done. Proper preparation reduces your exposure to organic chemicals like PCBs and certain pesticides. More than 50 percent of these contaminants can be eliminated by trimming fatty areas before cooking and by cooking fish in ways that allow fat to drip away. Mercury levels cannot be reduced by trimming because mercury binds to protein (the meat portion) of the fish.
Contaminants in fish can be harmful to people of all ages, but the fetus and young children are especially sensitive to contaminants because their organs and systems are not yet fully developed. They are less able to deal with toxic substances than an adult. Contaminants in fish can affect your baby more than they affect you and can be hard to detect. It is best to prevent childhood exposure to fish contaminants in the first place. In summary, the most sensitive groups are unborn children and children age 15 and under. This also includes women who plan to become pregnant, women who are pregnant and nursing mothers.
Periodically check the website or contact the Ohio Department of Health or Ohio EPA for the latest information about Ohio sport fish consumption advisories.