Fish Consumption Advisories

A woman cleans a fish.

Fish and shellfish have a valuable place in a healthy diet. They are excellent sources of lowfat protein, and they contain essential nutrients. At times, however, certain environmental factors can make some species of fish or shellfish unsafe to eat. When this happens, officials post a fish consumption advisory. Use the map below to check for contaminated fish in your area.

Q: What is a fish consumption advisory?

A: Fish consumption advisories are warnings for people when fish or shellfish are unsafe to eat. The fish may be contaminated with chemicals, like mercury, or they may carry viruses or bacteria from microorganisms. These advisories are issued when humans face potential health threats from eating the fish.

Q: Who publishes fish consumption advisories?

A: The Environmental Protection Agency issues general advisories. States, territories, or tribes may also post safe eating guidelines for the fish in their local waters.

Q: What contaminants can be found in fish and shellfish?

In our modern society, sources of natural and manufactured chemicals are everywhere. They include water-borne industrial chemicals from factory effluent pipes; chimney emissions such as mercury, and substances that cause acid rain; agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides; household chemicals and pharmaceuticals that cannot be completely removed during waste water treatment; and other persistent organic pollutants. They also originate from more diffuse, non-point sources such as soil erosion and atmospheric deposition. The chemicals that are of major concern include mercury, arsenic, aluminum, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlordane, dioxins, and pesticides such as dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT).
Biological Contamination in fish and shellfish results when animals accumulate naturally occurring toxins to sufficient concentrations that they can cause severe illness. The availability of toxins is often related to algal blooms and the poor water quality conditions that produce them. A common poison is ciguatera, a general name for a group of toxins derived from dinoflagellate algae that can concentrate in shellfish such as mussels, clams, scallops and predatory sportfish such as snapper, amberjack, barracuda and grouper.

Toxins can also be a natural defense of some animals such as the pufferfish, and plants and fungi. A toxin called histamine may be produced by bacterial action when some fish like tuna, bluefish and mahimahi are not stored soon enough at sufficiently cold temperatures. Cooking and freezing does not destroy biological toxins. Symptoms of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PFP) and ciguatera can occur within minutes and may be lead to severe illness.

Fish and shellfish sometimes harbor natural pathogens that can infect humans, usually through the consumption of raw fish when eating sashimi, sushi, ceviche, and gravlax. Parasites include flukes, roundworms and tapeworms. Bacterial infections usually arise from two means; contact or ingestion and can be caused by a range of bacterial types. However, most problems can be avoided by thoroughly cooking or preparing fish before consumption to kill infectious agents (e.g. boiling, broiling, preserving in salt or vinegar, or freezing overnight).

Q: Where can I find consumption advisories near me?

A: States and tribes typically have the most up-to-date information about fish consumption advisories. Check with your park to find specific advisories in your area.

Q: Who’s at risk?

A: Eating contaminated fish can make anyone sick. Certain groups like the elderly, pregnant women, nursing mothers, young children, and people who eat a lot of fish could be at higher risk.

Q: Where can I learn more?

A: Learn more about fish consumption advisories on the Environmental Protection Agency website. For specific information about advisories in a park, check with a park ranger, visitor center, or park website.

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