Florida’s freshwater and marine fishes are generally considered safe to eat. Fish is an excellent source of protein and nutrients. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week to help maintain cardiovascular health. However, certain fish can be potentially unhealthy to eat, because they can take up contaminants from the water and from the food they eat.
At low to moderate levels found in most Florida fish, mercury poses little danger, and fish can be consumed safely in reasonable amounts. However, developing fetuses and young children are more sensitive to the harmful effects mercury has on the brain than adults. As a result, women of childbearing age and young children should eat less fish than others to avoid higher health risks.
By choosing a variety of fish low in mercury from different water bodies and not eating only one type, anglers can enjoy health benefits without appreciable risks. Consumption advisories have been issued to help anglers choose fish lower in mercury while limiting consumption of some species of fish from certain waters.
Count all fish meals from all water bodies
Fish eaten from different water bodies count toward the consumption guidelines. For example, a woman of childbearing age should not eat more than six ounces of cooked largemouth bass, combined, from all water bodies per month. Any additional fish meals eaten during the recommended time period should have low or no mercury levels.
Other Department of Health fish consumption advisories
Lake Apopka (Lake and Orange counties): For women of childbearing age and young children black crappie, bluegill, blue tilapia, and largemouth bass can be eaten once a week and all other individuals can eat these species twice a week. Brown bullhead catfish can be eaten once a month by women of childbearing age and young children, while the recommendation for everyone else is one meal a week for brown bullhead due to pesticide contamination.
Lake Munson (Leon County): Largemouth bass 19 inches or more should not be eaten more than one time per month due to PCBs.
Mercury questions and answers
Where does mercury come from?
Mercury is released into the environment from natural deposits in rocks, volcanoes and soils. It is also released into the environment when power plants burn coal, incinerators burn mercury-containing wastes, and during production of other industrial chemicals. Airborne mercury attaches itself to dust and water particles and enters Florida waters with rain and runoff.
How does mercury get into fish?
Mercury is found in virtually all waters in the state, usually at extremely low concentrations. Naturally occurring bacteria, which decompose dead plant and animal material in lakes and wetlands, convert mercury into a form called methyl mercury. Methyl mercury accumulates primarily from organisms eaten by fish. Fish may contain different levels of contaminants based on their location, size, age, and feeding habits.
Can I trim or cook fish to get rid of mercury?
No. Mercury accumulates in the muscle tissue of fish, the part you eat. Therefore, trimming excess fat and skinning do not reduce the amount of mercury you consume. The only way to reduce mercury consumption is to eat fish from less contaminated water bodies and to select species that are lower in mercury.
How do I choose which fish to eat?
Small, short-lived species such as sunfish (e.g., bluegill, redear sunfish, redbreast sunfish, or spotted sunfish) and brown bullhead are generally lower in mercury. Generally, smaller largemouth bass contain less mercury than larger individuals. To help you select fish to eat, refer to the Safe Eating Guidelines, below, for statewide advice from untested waters. If you don’t see your favorite sport fish or for recommendations for tested waters, please consult the publication “Your Guide to Eating Fish Caught in Florida” available at doh.state.fl.us/floridafishadvice/ or by calling 850-245-4299.
EPA/FDA advice for women of childbearing age and young children
Women of childbearing age and children are more sensitive to mercury, and should take special precautions. Guidelines have been established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect this segment of the population. Please refer to the EPA Fish Advisories Web page for additional information: epa.gov/waterscience/fish/. EPA, along with FDA, recommend that when selecting and eating fish, women and young children reduce their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury by following these recommendations.
- Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
- Eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. 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 of albacore.
- Check Florida Safe Eating Guidelines about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in Florida lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. The Florida statewide consumption advisory provides general guidelines for consumption of largemouth bass, bowfin and gar. For other fish from local water bodies that are not listed, consume no more than 6 ounces per week.
For more information
Check the FWC Web site: research.MyFWC.com/Mercury, or doh.state.fl.us/floridafishadvice.