Mercury in Fish- Is That Fish Safe to Eat?

Mercury in Fish- Is That Fish Safe to Eat?

king mackerel

A big king mackerel- great to catch, delicious, and full of toxic mercury.

Health pundits on TV and in print are always telling us to eat more fish. Fish are good for you, they tell us. They’re high in protein, low in fat, and the fat fish contains is that desirable kind, omega-3. But, Is That Fish Safe to Eat?

Whether the seas can sustain all of us eating fish is a question to be dealt with another time.

What I want to know when I catch a fish I’m considering taking home is this- is that fish safe to eat? In a few cases, it’s not.

Most fish caught in Florida contains some mercury. According to the publication Your Guide to Eating Fish Caught in Florida, published by the Florida Department of Health, “for most people, the risk of eating fish exposed to mercury is not a health concern. However, developing fetuses and young children are more sensitive to the harmful effects mercury has on the brain than other people. As a result, women of childbearing age and young children should eat less fish than all others to avoid the higher health risks.”

How does mercury affect us?

Mercury comes in several forms. The form commonly found in fish is called methyl mercury. It damages the central nervous system, endocrine system, kidneys, and other organs, and adversely affects the mouth, gums, and teeth. It works its way up the food chain through bioaccumulation in the environment, reaching high concentrations among populations of some species. Larger species of fish, such as tuna or swordfish, are usually of greater concern than smaller species.

According to above-mentioned publication, Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, and Tilefish contain high levels of mercury. King mackerel longer than 31 inches or sharks longer than 43 inches should not be eaten at all, by anyone.

Most freshwater fish caught in Florida can be eaten without harm. Bream (such as Bluegill, Redear sunfish, Redbreast sunfish or Spotted sunfish) and marine fish such as Mullet, Snappers, Pompano, Flounder , and Dolphin are generally low in mercury. But some freshwater lakes hold fish with high levels of mercury. Check the Guide.

In general, for adults the benefits of one to two servings of fish per week outweigh the risks, even (except for a few fish species) for women of childbearing age, and that avoidance of fish consumption could result in significant excess coronary heart disease deaths and suboptimal neural development in children

For readers in states other than Florida, the EPA has a website that covers the same kinds of information. Visit it at

John Kumiski

All content in this blog, including writing and photos, copyright John Kumiski 2012. All rights are reserved.