Fish Consumption Advisories in my Community
Fish are a lean, low-calorie source of protein and key nutrients as part of a healthy diet. For waters and species with “Green Light Notices”, fish may be consumed per EPA and FDA guidelines. For waters or species that data are not available, AZGFD recommends consulting these EPA and FDA resources to make informed decisions on which fish and how much should be consume.
However, some fish may have elevated levels of mercury and may be unsafe to consume. Sources of mercury to the environment are both naturally occurring and human-caused. AZGFD works closely with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to collect fish from waterbodies across the state to analyze for mercury. When data comes back showing elevated levels of mercury, ADEQ and AZGFD issue fish consumption advisories. See the list of waters and species with consumption advisories.
Waters and Species with Fish Consumption Advisories
information about fish and mercury
These advisories do not limit the use of these bodies of water for fishing, bird watching, swimming, or other recreational uses.
Fish can be an important part of a healthy, diverse diet because they are an excellent source of protein and low in saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends eating two fish or seafood meals weekly as part of a healthy diet.
The following information has been compiled from a number of qualified health sources, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Food and Drug Administration) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Fresh caught fish from Arizona’s lakes, rivers and streams can be an important part of a healthy diet. Fish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish can contribute to heart health and children’s proper growth and development.
So, women and young children in particular should include fish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.
However, nearly all fish contain traces of mercury. For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish is not a health concern. Yet, some fish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.
The risks from mercury in fish depends on the amount eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
By following these three recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.
(1) Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
(2) 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.
(3) 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.
Frequently Asked Questions about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
This information comes from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
What is mercury and methylmercury?
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.
I’m a woman who could have children but I’m not pregnant – so why should I be concerned about methylmercury?
If you regularly eat types of fish that are high in methylmercury, it 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. Thus, it may be present in a woman even before she becomes pregnant. This is the reason why women who are trying to become pregnant should also avoid eating certain types of fish.
Is there methylmercury in all fish and shellfish?
Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of methylmercury because they’ve had more time to accumulate it. These large fish (swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish) pose the greatest risk. Other types of fish and shellfish may be eaten in the amounts recommended by FDA and EPA.
I don’t see the fish I eat in the advisory.
If you want more information about the levels in the various types of fish you eat, see the FDA food safety website or the EPA website at www.epa.gov/ost/fish.
What about fish sticks and fast food sandwiches?
Fish sticks and “fast-food” sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury.
The advice about canned tuna is in the advisory, but what’s the advice about tuna steaks?
Because tuna steak generally contains higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak per week.
What if I eat more than the recommended amount of fish and shellfish in a week?
One week’s consumption of fish does not change the level of methylmercury in the body much at all. If you eat a lot of fish one week, you can cut back for the next week or two. Just make sure you average the recommended amount per week.
Where do I get information about the safety of fish caught by family or friends?
Before you go fishing, check your Fishing Regulations Booklet (or check the agency’s Web site for the latest updates) for information about recreationally caught fish. You can also contact your local health department for information about local advisories. You need to check local advisories because some kinds of fish and shellfish caught in your local waters may have higher or much lower than average levels of mercury. This depends on the levels of mercury in the water in which the fish are caught. Those fish with much lower levels may be eaten more frequently and in larger amounts.
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 or visit FDA’s Food Safety website www.cfsan.fda.gov/seafood1.html
For further information about the safety of locally caught fish and shellfish, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Fish Advisory website www.epa.gov/ost/fish or contact your State or Local Health Department, such as the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality www.azdeq.gov. A list of state or local health department contacts is available at www.epa.gov/ost/fish. For information on EPA’s actions to control mercury, visit EPA’s mercury website at www.epa.gov/mercury.
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