There are so many sources of fish advice available it can be confusing to know where to start. We have narrowed the field of trusted advice by the type and level of detail of information you may want to consider. Some advice focuses primarily on methylmercury, which is the most toxic contaminant in fish. But fish can also contain other contaminants with negative health effects such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs; POPs include chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs). Most states’ public health advice is focused on local sport fish and covers both mercury and POP contaminants known to be of local concern.
However, only a few state departments of public health also provide information on commercial fish, which is the main source of fish for most people in the U.S., thus requiring you to check more than one source of advice if you consume both sport and commercial fish. Advice from environmental advocacy groups often focuses on awareness about sustainability of the fish populations but many also include a warning about contaminants. And some advice also identifies those fish that offer additional health benefits from higher content levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
The U.S. government advice, the EPA/FDA joint advice on fish consumption issued in 2004, is targeted toward the pregnant women and young children. But research shows that anyone who eats a lot of high-mercury fish can experience negative health effects. Some people are just more sensitive to methylmercury for reasons scientists are still trying to understand. And unfortunately there is also advice offered by seafood industry representatives that incorrectly interprets the EPA reference dose that is designed to provide guidance on safe consumption levels, with the result that they say you can eat a lot more high-mercury fish than public health experts recommend. With this in mind, you need to be careful where you get your advice.
Fish low in contaminants is a healthy choice in your diet. Use the links below to find the advice that works best for you.
Advice with consideration of contaminants, omega-3 content, & sustainability
Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector offers the most complete information on fish consumption of any source we have found. The site includes a greater variety of species of commercial fish than other sites and includes consideration of mercury and PCB content, provides nutritional content from the USDA as well as sustainability status of each fish. The site also offers a sushi guide. Of note is that EDF uses a more conservative approach in fish recommendations than some public health agencies, namely EPA’s cancer risk assessment for PCB exposure rather than non-cancer risk, so their advice will generally be the most protective of your health that you can find (more information on EPA's fish advice methods is at http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=16263).
The Washington State Department of Health "Healthy Fish Guide offers a fish advice wallet card and other useful information about fish consumption and avoiding contaminants, like how to clean a fish to minimize POPs in your meal. It is the only fish advice from a U.S. state public health agency to include all considerations for fish consumers — fish advice sorted by mercury and persistent organic contamination with flags for higher omega-3 fatty acid fish, and notes on species at risk from overfishing.
Advice that includes mercury & POPs only
The Connecticut State Department of Public Health website offers separate advice for the most sensitive populations and avid fish eaters — those who eat fish several times a week. The site also contains a unique report, Eating Fish: Risks and Benefits, that compares the risks from mercury and the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids of some commonly consumed fish. This data is used in Connecticut's fish advice.
Kidsafe Seafood offers advice that calculates servings of fish for children’s body sizes. All fish advice is based on body weight but this site makes selecting fish easy if you feed children. This site uses EDF’s fish data, so this advice is also more cautious than some other sources.
“Apps”, calculators and other tools
The Fish4Health iPhone application created by Purdue University researchers tracks your fish consumption and keeps a tally of your mercury exposure and omega-3 fatty acid intake. It can be used by anyone who wants to maximize health benefits from fish consumption, despite its design for pregnant women.
The Natural Resources Defense Council website provides useful information on methylmercury, its health effects and also offers a calculator that lets you know if your exposure to mercury from the fish you are eating is estimated to be at a safe level. NRDC also offers a downloadable wallet card and a sushi guide.
GotMercury.org has a mercury calculator that will interpret your fish choices using FDA’s fish data and EPA’s reference dose methodology. It is an easy way to get a rough idea on whether your fish choices are resulting in a safe estimated blood mercury level for you.
Blue Ocean Institute advice focuses on sustainability of wild caught fish but searchable database flags seafood that is known to contain harmful contaminant levels.
Detailed Mercury Content Data
We have created the Seafood Hg Database, a database of mercury levels in fish sold commercially in the U.S., that can be accessed or downloaded here. The Seafood Hg Database draws from government data sources used in the FDA database (see below) as well as data from the published peer-reviewed literature.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers an online database of mercury levels for commercial fish.
The Mercury Policy Project website links to a table from a manuscript by Edward Groth III, Ph.D. that provides specific mercury levels on the most consumed fish in the U.S. using the FDA dataset, categorized from low to high mercury levels. MPP also provides important background information on the misinformation that is too common in the media with regard to mercury contamination in fish.
US Government Advice
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the FDA issued a joint seafood consumption advisory in 2001 and revised it in 2004.
The EPA website contains information on fish consumption as well as other information on mercury in the environment. State, tribal and local governments are responsible for local sport fish advisories. State Departments of Health offer advice primarily on sport fishing, though some states do include information on commercial as well as local sport fish. State advisories can be accessed via the EPA web site; see Resources section for web site links.
Low Mercury Fish Choices
Arctic char (farmed)
Atlantic mackerel♥ (not King mackerel--it's very high in mercury)
Catfish (US farmed)
Pollock (fish sticks)
Shellfish (oysters (Pacific♥), shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops)
Tilapia (US farmed)
Trout♥ (Rainbow, farmed)
♥indicates a good source of omega-3 fatty acids