There is hardly a fish species that isn’t affected by pollution. We use the oceans as a dumping ground for our garbage, which is loaded with chemicals! In addition, our sewer systems dump into the oceans, and because our bodies shed toxic chemicals, they also find their way into the ocean when we swim.
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are in some species of fish and crabs. The Chesapeake Bay, a great source for crabs, was contaminated with PCBs.
But farm raised fish are usually the most contaminated because, among other things, they are given “fishmeal” as opposed to roaming the seas for their food. They are also raised in an environment of concentrated fish waste, as well as sea lice and pesticides to combat the sea lice.
What To Do?
If you like to eat fish, here are some ways to protect yourself to some degree. First, remove the skin, fat and internal organs prior to cooking. Also, allow the fat to drain. Like mammals, the fat will contain toxins. Draining will decrease exposure to a number of fat-soluble pollutants.
Methyl-mercury is found in the oceans and, therefore, in the fish. Unfortunately, cooking precautions will not reduce exposure to methyl-mercury. Organic mercury compounds are toxic and excessive exposure can cause brain and kidney damage.
Who Should Avoid Fish
Pollutants are extremely dangerous for a developing fetus, infants and young children. They are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of mercury on the brain. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have made the following joint recommendations for women of child-bearing years, pregnant women and breast-feeding women:
- Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tile fish (also known as golden bass or golden snapper) because they contain high methyl-mercury levels.
- Eat up to 12 oz (2 average meals) per week of a variety of fish that are lower in mercury. The five most commonly consumed fish that are low in mercury include canned light tuna, shrimp, salmon, catfish and pollock. Limit consumption of canned white (albacore) tuna and tuna steak to 6 oz (one average meal) per week.
- Check local advisories regarding the safety of fish caught by friends or family in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas.
When feeding fish to young children, the DHHS and the EPA advise following the above guidelines but serving smaller portions, such as 3 oz, for an average meal.