Catching Them and Eating Them

June 09, 2015

Fishing season is open! Fish is a good, low-fat, and economical source of protein. Many healthy heart programs recommend eating more fish meals. However, fish tend to take up chemicals such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl’s (PCBs) so that eating fish may affect your family’s health, especially for persons in high-risk groups. You are in the high-risk group if you are pregnant women, a woman planning pregnancy within a year, a nursing mother or a child under the age of 6. All other persons are in the low-risk group.

Each fishing season, the CT Department of Public Health issues it annual fish consumption advisory for fish caught in CT waters and fish from a store or market.  

For fish from the store, it states the following general guidelines:  

  • Persons in high-risk groups can eat up to 2 fish meals per week from either the market or from a restaurant. They should choose from a variety of species, including canned tuna. Persons at high-risk should not ever eat swordfish or shark. They should choose light tuna because it has less mercury than “white” tuna. Lobster and shellfish are generally low in contaminants, but the tomalley portion of lobster (the green gland) can be high in contaminants and should not be eaten.  This applies to all lobsters.  High risk persons should also avoid sushi containing Kajiki and limit eating sushi made with Ahi, Magoro, and Toro to one meal a week.   
  • For all persons, choose from these fish more often: flounder, herring, trout, Atlantic mackerel, sole, sardines and smelts, pollock and salmon (wild) as they are especially low in contaminants. Other fish that are relatively safe to eat and can be consumed up to two meals a week by women, children and low-risk persons are: haddock, Atlantic mackerel, cod, light tuna (canned), shellfish (oysters, shrimp, clams, scallops, lobster), perch, and tilapia.

Special information about trout: Most trout from CT rivers are safe to eat because they usually have little contamination and are routinely re-stocked. However, there are limits on trout from certain waterbodies due to PCBs and on large trout form lakes due to mercury. High risk persons should not eat more than one meal of large trout (over 15 inches) per month and should not eat trout from the Housatonic River.

How you prepare fish can help to decrease your exposure to chemicals. When you cook fish, you will eat less PCBs if you remove skin and other fatty parts. Cook fish on a rack (broil) so that fat can drip away from the flesh.  Remove and do not eat the organs, head, skin and the dark fatty tissue along the backbone, lateral lines and belly.  Mercury is in the edible (fillet) portion of fish.  Therefore, you cannot lower your exposure to mercury by cooking or cleaning the fish.  It is important to remember that large fish tend to have the highest levels of PCBs and mercury.  Therefore, eat small fish (perch, small trout, sunfish, etc.) instead of large fish whenever possible. 

             The CT Department of Public Health (CTDPH) Fish Advisory brochure has very detailed information about fish from the Housatonic River area, other CT fresh waterbodies and Long Island Sound. If you are a fisherman and/or if you eat a lot of fish from the fisherman in your family, you need to get a copy of this advisory. The information contained within the document specifies the species of fish from each of these waters and how often it is safe to consume them for both high and low risk groups. 

            To obtain a copy of the 2015 “If I Catch It, Can I Eat It: A Guide to Eating Fish Safely” go to www.ct.gov/dph/fish. If you do not have internet access, Quinnipiack Valley Health District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call this office, 203 248-4528 or request by email, dculligan@qvhd.org for a free copy.