Fish and Shellfish : Mercury in Seafood
Mercury in Seafood
People at Risk for Mercury in Seafood
Fish and shellfish are good for you! Fish and shellfish are high in protein and other essential nutrients. They are low in saturated fat, and contain helpful omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development. Fish and shellfish are an important part of everyone's diet. Seafood contains many nutritional benefits.
The problem is nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury.
For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is
not a health concern. Some fish and shellfish
contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young
child's developing nervous system. The risks from mercury in
fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and
the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish.
Women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children should not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.
Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your young child, but serve smaller portions.
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans and is turned into methylmercury in the water. It is this type of mercury that can be harmful to your unborn baby and young child. Fish absorb the methylmercury as they feed in these waters and so it builds up in them. It builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others, depending on what the fish eat, which is why the levels vary.
Methylmercury can accumulate in your blood stream over time. Methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it may take over a year for the levels to drop significantly. This is the reason why women who are trying to become pregnant should also avoid eating high risk seafood.
For further information about the risks of mercury in fish and shellfish call the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's food information line toll-free at 1-888-SAFEFOOD. For information on EPA's actions to control mercury, visit EPA's mercury website at www.epa.gov/mercury.