2012 Ohio Sport Fish Consumption Advisory - Questions & Answers
The Ohio Sport Fish Consumption Advisory
Why is a fish consumption advisory needed?
Most Ohio sport fish are of high quality; however, low levels of chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury and lead have been found in some fish from certain waters. The Ohio Department of Health offers advice for how often these fish can be safely eaten. The advisories are not laws or regulations. They are intended to help anglers and their families make educated choices about: where you fish; the types of fish you eat; how to limit the amount and frequency of fish you eat; and how you prepare fish for cooking.
By following these advisories, you can get the health benefits of eating fish and reduce unwanted contaminants.
What is the meal portion or serving size used in this advisory?
For an adult, the serving size is 8 ounces uncooked or 6 ounces cooked. For children under age six, the serving size is 3 ounces uncooked or 2 ounces cooked.
What about fish from the grocery or restaurants?
This advisory covers only sport fish caught in Ohio waters. 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 the FDA encourages consumption of up to 12 ounces of fish per week. Based on 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:
U.S. EPA and FDA recommend that women of childbearing age and children limit their intake of all fish, including tuna, to two to three meals per week (12 ounces of fish per week for an adult woman). For more information about FDA's fish consumption advice, see www.fda.gov/food/foodsafety/product-specificinformation/seafood/foodbornepathogenscontaminants/methylmercury/ucm115662.htm.
What about fast food fish sandwiches and fish sticks?
These are usually made from fish low in contaminants and would be covered under FDA’s regulations and recommendations.
What contaminants are looked for to determine if a fish advisory is needed?
Ohio's fish samples are analyzed for several contaminants, most importantly mercury and PCBs. We also look for several other metals, including arsenic, cadmium, lead and selenium. We also analyze samples for pesticides. Except in a few special cases, mercury and PCBs are responsible for advisories of one meal per month or more restrictive for Ohio sport fish.
If I eat a fish that is listed at a recommended consumption frequency of one meal per month for mercury, can I also eat a fish that is listed at a recommended consumption frequency of one meal per month for PCBs?
Yes. PCBs and mercury affect different body processes, so 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.
If you eat any fish with an advisory for a particular contaminant, you should not eat any other fish in that category for the advised length of time that is listed for that contaminant. For example, if you eat a fish that has a one-per-month recommended frequency for mercury, you should not eat another sport caught fish that is listed as one per month for mercury even if the other fish is a different species or caught at a different place..
What if I eat more than the recommended amount of fish and shellfish in a week?
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 per week.
Why does Ohio have an advisory to only eat one meal of sport fish a week?
Fish from rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs throughout Ohio often have small amounts of chemical contaminants. By limiting the number of sport fish meals you eat to one per week, you can be sure that the contaminants do not build up in your body to levels that may be harmful. Data collected from Ohio’s lakes and rivers show that a statewide advisory of one meal per week of sport-caught fish is appropriate.
Some species of fish and fish from certain locations have been shown to be safe to consume up to two meals per week.
Has the lake or stream where I like to fish been sampled for contaminated fish?
All sampled lakes and streams that have fish with higher levels of contaminants are listed in the main advisory table. If you don't see the lake or stream where you fish, then you may safely consume the fish you catch as often as once a week. Complete lists of lakes and streams that have been sampled for contaminated fish are available on the web and in PDF documents:
The lake where I fish seems dirty, but the fish have been sampled and there is no advisory. How can the lake seem dirty but the fish not have an advisory?
You cannot see, smell, or taste fish tissue contaminants at levels that can affect your health. Therefore, a lake can look dirty, yet the fish in it can be uncontaminated. A clean looking lake might have contaminated fish 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.
The Health Benefits From Eating Fish
What health benefits do I get from eating sport fish?
Health experts recommend that regular consumption of fish be included as part of a healthy diet. Fish are generally low in fat and high in protein. Fish contain a number of vitamins and minerals, and are the primary food source for long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids are important during fetal brain and eye development and may help to prevent heart disease in adults.
Should I stop eating fish?
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, and reduce your exposure to possible contaminants, 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.
What about eating tuna fish?
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 average meals per week (12 ounces of fish per week for an adult woman).
Albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per 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 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak per week.
For more information about FDA's fish consumption advice, including information about tuna consumption, see www.fda.gov/food/foodsafety/product-specificinformation/seafood/foodbornepathogenscontaminants/methylmercury/ucm115662.htm.
The Health Effects From Eating Contaminated Fish
What contaminants are in fish?
Contaminants that are found in some Ohio fish include PCBs, pesticides, and heavy metals such as lead and methyl mercury. The contaminants responsible for most advisories are methyl mercury and PCBs.
What is methyl mercury?
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 of the mercury found in fish is methyl mercury.
What are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)?
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are man-made oils that were once used in carbonless copying paper and in electrical equipment. PCBs break down very slowly in the environment. PCBs tend to stay in sediments and build up in fish.
How do methyl mercury and PCBs affect human health?
Long-lasting contaminants such as PCBs and mercury can build up in your body. 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.
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. 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.
The advisories that protect sensitive populations also protect all other members of the general public..
How can I reduce my health risk?
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. 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.
What groups are most sensitive to contaminants?
The most sensitive groups are unborn children and children age fifteen and under. This also includes women of child-bearing age. Unborn and young children are especially sensitive to contaminants because their organs and systems are not yet fully developed. They are less able than an adult to deal with toxic substances. Contaminants in fish can be hard to detect and can affect your baby more than they affect you.
What should I do if I think that I've had too much mercury from eating fish?
If you think you have been eating fish with too much mercury regularly, you should see your doctor. Your doctor can take a hair or a blood sample and can find out if there is too much mercury in your system. Mercury you eat today will stay in your body for somewhere between a month to three months, so the sample will tell you if you've been eating too much mercury over the past few months. Your doctor can also give you advice about what you can do to lower the amount of mercury in your body. Because a major source of mercury is contaminated fish, following the guidelines on this Web site and limiting your fish consumption to those fish known to be lower in mercury should help to lower the amount of mercury in your body.