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EPA National Advice on Mercury in Freshwater Fish

  [ 71 votes ]   [ Post a Comment ] • March 13, 2002

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Editor's Note: Since mercury toxicity is a concern for CFS (and FM) patients, you might want to consider the fish you eat as a possible source of harmful levels of mercury.

Are you pregnant or is there a possibility that you could become pregnant? Are you nursing an infant or do you have young children? Does your family eat fish that they catch from nearby fresh waters? If so, please read this important information.

Fish can be an important source of nutrition for you, your developing baby, and young child. However, some fish contain harmful levels of the pollutant mercury. Mercury consumed by a pregnant or nursing woman or by a young child can harm the developing brain and nervous system. You can avoid the risks associated with mercury and still get the health benefits of eating fish by following the advice given here.

How does mercury get into fish that I eat?

Most mercury pollution is released into the air. It falls down directly onto waterways or is deposited on land where it can be washed into the water. Bacteria in the water cause chemical changes that transform mercury into a highly toxic form - methylmercury. Methylmercury accumulates in fish, with larger fish generally accumulating higher levels of methylmercury. The Environmental Protection Agency and States are working to reduce mercury pollution in the environment but because methylmercury is very persistent, it will be many years before methylmercury levels in fish are reduced.

How can I avoid levels of methylmercury that could harm my baby or child?

If you are pregnant or could become pregnant, are nursing a baby, or if you are feeding a young child, limit consumption of freshwater fish caught by family and friends to one meal per week. For adults one meal is six ounces of cooked fish or eight ounces uncooked fish; for a young child one meal is two ounces cooked fish or three ounces uncooked fish. Many states collect data on mercury levels in fish from local waters. Check with your state or local health department for specific advice on waters where your family and friends are fishing.

In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued advice on mercury in fish bought from stores and restaurants, which includes ocean and coastal fish as well as other types of commercial fish. FDA advises that women who are pregnant or could become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish. FDA also advises that women of childbearing age and pregnant women may eat an average of 12 ounces of fish purchased in stores and restaurants each week.

Therefore, if in a given week you eat 12 ounces of cooked fish from a store or restaurant, then do not eat fish caught by your family or friends that week. This is important to keep the total level of methylmercury contributed by all fish at a low level in your body.

EPA recommends that women who are or could become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children follow the FDA advice for coastal and ocean fish caught by family and friends. Check with your local or state health department for specific advice.

Fish is a good source of protein and adequate protein is necessary for a baby and child's healthy development. If fish caught by family and friends is your primary source of protein, try substituting meat, poultry, eggs, or dairy products. If you can't get these sources of protein, ask your State or local health department about other ways to meet your and your child's nutritional needs.

Is it OK for the rest of my family to eat fish caught by family and friends?

This national advice is for nursing mothers, women who are or could become pregnant, and young children. The developing nervous system of the baby and young child is more sensitive to the harmful effects of methylmercury than the more fully developed nervous system of an older child or adult. Other family members do not need to follow this advice but should follow the recommendations of the State or local health department on the amount of fish caught by family and friends that is safe to eat.

What about fish from stores and restaurants?

The Food & Drug Administration is issuing a methylmercury advisory on the hazard posed by fish purchased in stores and restaurants. EPA's advice only covers freshwater fish caught by friends and family from local waters. However, EPA recommends that women who are or could become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children follow the FDA advice for coastal and ocean fish caught by family and friends. For more information on mercury in these fish, please contact the Food and Drug Administration or visit their web site at on the Internet.

Where can I get more information?

For more information on freshwater fish consumption advisories across the country, go to To find your State or local contact on the safety of fish you catch from local waters, go to and click on Federal, State, and Tribal Contacts for Fish Advisories.

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