FOR MORE INTRODUCTION
United States EPA 823-B-97-009
Environmental Protection September 1997
INFORMATION Office of Science and Technology (4305)
What can I do to reduce my health
For more information about reducing your health Should I Eat the Fish are an important part of a healthy diet. They
are a lean, low-calorie source of protein. Some risks from eating fish containing
risks from eating fish that contain chemical
pollutants, contact your local or state health or Fish I Catch? sport fish caught in the nation’s lakes, rivers,
oceans, and estuaries, however, may contain
chemical pollutants ?
environmental protection department. You can chemicals that could pose health risks if these fish Following these steps can reduce your health
find the telephone number in the blue section of are eaten in large amounts. risks from eating fish containing chemical
your local telephone directory. pollutants. The rest of the brochure explains
A guide to healthy The purpose of this brochure is not to discourage these recommendations in more detail.
You may also contact: you from eating fish. It is intended as a guide to
eating of the fish help you select and prepare fish that are low in 1. Call your local or state environmen-
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chemical pollutants. By following these recommen- tal health department. Contact them
Office of Water you catch dations, you and your family can continue to enjoy before you fish to see if any advisories are
Fish Contamination Program (4305) the benefits of eating fish. posted in areas where you want to fish.
401 M Street, SW
Washington, DC 20460 Fish taken from polluted waters might be hazard- 2. Select certain kinds and sizes of fish
ous to your health. Eating fish containing chemical for eating. Younger fish contain fewer
email address: www.epa.gov/ost/fishadvice pollutants may cause birth defects, liver damage, pollutants than older, larger fish. Panfish
cancer, and other serious health problems. feed on insects and are less likely to build
Chemical pollutants in water come from many
sources. They come from factories and sewage 3. Clean and cook your fish properly.
treatment plants that you can easily see. They also Proper cleaning and cooking techniques may
come from sources that you can’t easily see, like reduce the levels of some chemical pollutants
chemical spills or runoff from city streets and farm in the fish.
fields. Pollutants are also carried long distances in
Fish may be exposed to chemical pollutants in the
water, and the food they eat. They may take up
some of the pollutants into their bodies. The
pollutants are found in the skin, fat, internal
organs, and sometimes muscle tissue of the fish.
Developed in collaboration with the Agency Advisories are different from fishing
AGENCY FOR TOXIC SUBSTANCES
AND DISEASE REGISTRY
for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, restrictions or bans or limits.
U.S. Public Health Service Advisories are issued to provide
recommendations for limiting the
This brochure may be reproduced
amount of fish to be eaten due to
without EPA permission at no charge.
levels of pollutants in the fish.
Printed on recycled paper
CATCHING FISH Do some fish contain more pollutants
Trim away the skin and fatty tissue before cooking to
reduce the level of some pollutants in the fish you eat.
How can I find out if the waters that I Yes. You can’t look at fish and tell if they contain
fish in are polluted? chemical pollutants. The only way to tell if fish
contain harmful levels of chemical pollutants is to
It’s almost impossible to tell if a water body is have them tested in a laboratory. Follow these
polluted simply by looking at it. However, there are simple guidelines to lower the risk to your family: body fat
ways to find out.
If you eat gamefish, such as lake trout, salmon,
First, look to see if warning signs are posted along walleye, and bass, eat the smaller, younger fish
the water’s edge. If there are signs, follow the (within legal limits). They are less likely to
advice printed on them. contain harmful levels of pollutants than larger,
Second, even if you don’t see warning signs, call
your local or state health or environmental protec- Eat panfish, such as bluegill, perch, stream trout,
tion department and ask for their advice. Ask them and smelt. They feed on insects and other
if there are any advisories on the kinds or sizes of aquatic life and are less likely to contain high
fish that may be eaten from the waters where you levels of harmful pollutants. the fat drain away, you can remove pollutants
plan to fish. You can also ask about fishing Health Note stored in the fatty parts of the fish. Added precau-
advisories at local sporting goods or bait shops Eat fewer fatty fish, such as lake trout, or fish tions include:
where fishing licenses are sold. that feed on the bottoms of lakes and streams Mercury is found throughout the tissue in fish, so
such as catfish and carp. These fish are more these cleaning and cooking techniques will not Avoid or reduce the amount of fish drippings
If the waterbody has likely to contain higher levels of chemical reduce the amount of mercury in a meal of fish. or broth that you use to flavor the meal. These
not been tested, pollutants. drippings may contain higher levels of
follow these guide- pollutants.
lines to reduce your
health risks from
eating fish that
CLEANING FISH Remember that with any fresh meat, always Eat less fried or deep fat-fried fish because
follow proper food handling and storage tech- frying seals any chemical pollutants that might
might contain small be in the fish’s fat into the portion that you will
Can I clean my fish to reduce the niques. To prevent the growth of bacteria or
amounts of chemical eat.
amount of chemical pollutants that viruses, keep freshly caught fish on ice and out of
might be present? If you like smoked fish, it is best to fillet the fish
and remove the skin before the fish is smoked.
Yes. It’s always a good idea to remove the skin, fat,
Health Note and internal organs (where harmful pollutants are COOKING FISH
most likely to accumulate) before you cook the fish.
Some chemical pollutants, such as mercury and Can I cook my fish to reduce my
As an added precaution:
PCBs, can pose greater risks to women of health risk from eating fish containing
childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing Remove and throw away the head, guts, chemical pollutants?
mothers, and young children. This group should kidneys, and the liver.
be especially careful to greatly reduce or avoid Yes. The way you cook fish can make a difference
Fillet fish and cut away the fat and in the kinds and amounts of chemical pollutants
eating fish caught from polluted waters. skin before you cook it. remaining in the fish. Fish should be properly
Clean and dress fish as soon as possible. prepared and grilled, baked, or broiled. By letting