Too Much Fish?

With so many advisories about toxins in fish, it’s easy to become concerned.

Here in the Buckeye State, the Ohio Department of Health recommends eating no more than one meal a week from sport fish caught in the state. A few years back, the advisory was directed only at women of child-bearing age and children age 6 and younger. In 2003, it was extended to everyone, mostly to simplify the message and to act as a conservative measure to protect public health.

Some sport fish should be eaten even less than once a week, and some not at all. It all depends where you are fishing and what kind of fish you are catching. For a complete list by Ohio waterway and species, see the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s fish advisory website.

Fish consumption advisories aren’t limited to sport fish. In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency advised “sensitive populations” to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Sensitive populations include women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children.

At the same time, the agencies recommended up to two meals a week of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, including shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. Albacore tuna tends to have more mercury, so the agencies recommend sensitive populations limit albacore tuna to one meal (6 ounces) per week.

With that said, it’s hard to overstate the health benefits of eating more fish. Higher fish consumption is linked with reduced heart disease, and there’s some evidence it lessens other health risks. Fish is often lower in calories than other protein sources, and the fats it contains are heart-healthy omega-3s. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least twice a week. Fatty fish include mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon.

Even the agencies issuing advisories admit that the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern for most people. All of this information backs up the standard nutrition guideline: Everything in moderation. Even if the fish are biting.

Source: Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center