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 you may want to consider. Most advice for commercially available fish focuses 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). They are expensive to measure so it's not commonly done. Most states’ public health advice is focused on local sport fish and covers both mercury and POP contaminants known to be of local concern. 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. Advice from environmental advocacy groups often focuses on awareness about sustainability of the fish populations but many also include a warning flag about contaminants. Increasingly fish advice 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 federal advisory for mercury in fish issued in 2004, is targeted toward pregnant or nursing women and young children.
Fish is good for us if we eat the right amounts and kinds but 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 some seafood industry representatives that incorrectly interprets the EPA reference dose for mercury that is designed to provide guidance on safe fish 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.
Fish Advice Resources
National Geographic's Seafood Decision Guide allows you to sort fish by four factors: sustainability ranking, mercury level, omega-3 fatty acid level, and food chain level. After choosing your priorities, you see a list of fish that meet your criteria. It's a handy tool for discriminating seafood consumers.
Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector offers comprehensive information on the fish and shellfish we love to eat. The site includes more species of commercial fish than other sites and includes consideration of mercury levels, provides nutritional content from the USDA as well as sustainability status of each fish. The site also offers a sushi guide.
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. The WA state fish advice card includes several factors important to many fish consumers — fish advice sorted by mercury and persistent organic contamination with flags for higher omega-3 fatty acid fish and highlights indicating species at risk from unsustainable fishing practices. They focus on fish relevant to WA state consumers and offer the card in English and Spanish.
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. They offer advice in English and Spanish.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the FDA issued a joint federal advisory for mercury in fish in 2001 and revised it in 2004.
Local sport fish advisories are the responsibility of state, tribal and local governments. 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.
“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
Our research team compiled a 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 list 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.