Consider letting the big ones go
Who hasn’t dreamed of catching a big fish? I know I have but, that was a while ago, and any big fish caught I might catch nowadays is photographed and released. My altruism is rooted more in practicality than principle because if I want fish for supper, I’ve found the smaller ones make the best and safest eating. Scientists tell us the larger the fish the more likely it may be contaminated with mercury or other chemicals such as PCBs.
Most mercury enters aquatic systems as a by-product of fossil fuel combustion. Bacteria then convert it to methyl mercury a toxic form that accumulates in organic tissue. But, most of us are into eating fish occasionally so it’s only natural to ask, “How safe is it?”
According to an article in the Great Lakes Bain Report, a publication of the Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council, it depends on the kind of fish, how large the fish are and your individual tolerance for mercury. Basically, you can eat fish regularly, if you choose carefully.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish as the species highest in mercury and warns children and women of childbearing age to avoid them. All four species are large fish that live long enough for mercury in the ocean to accumulate in their flesh. According to the report, Pacific salmon are considered safe because when they are caught they are usually not old enough to accumulate dangerous levels of mercury. The report also states any farmed freshwater fish, small saltwater fish such as whiting, herring and shellfish are safe – at least as far as the threat of mercury is concerned.
Sportsmen and fish consumers are faced with a complex decision about eating fish since federal and state authorities can’t agree as to how much mercury constitutes a hazard for consumers. The standards set by the FDA which regulates commercial seafood, allow more mercury than those set by the USEPA, which in turn regulates sport fishing.
Here in New York, the DEC advises eating no more than one meal consisting of one-half pound of fish per week from most of New York’s freshwater fisheries except where exceptions are made for certain bodies of water including the Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers. If you are concerned about the fish you plan to eat, consult the fishing regulations guide, which every fisherman receives when purchasing a license. The guide lists the fish species and the waters they come from. Fish taken from the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers are most likely safe to eat—at least in limited quantities.
When prepared properly, fish is an excellent source of protein. In addition, fish is low in saturated fat and is a staple in the diet of people who are heart conscious because naturally occurring fish oils lower plasma cholesterol and triglycerides.
When preparing fish for consumption, most health experts advise letting the big ones go. If traces of chemical contaminates are present, it is more likely they will be found in higher concentrations in the larger fish than in the smaller ones. When preparing any fish for consumption, choose smaller fish and fillet the fish so that the skin, fatty material and dark belly meat are removed.
Keep in mind eating fish as recommended is safe and the general advice to eat no more than one-half pound of fish per week was issued to protect against eating large amounts of fish that have not been tested or may contain unidentified contaminants. It may take years of regularly eating contaminated fish to build up amounts of contaminates that are of a health concern. New York in not alone in issuing this fish advisory. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission says fish from state hatcheries are also subject to the blanket one-meal-per-week consumption advisory that applies to all recreationally caught fish in the Commonwealth.