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“An Ounce of Prevention” – Fishing For Health

Fishing season is open! Fish is a good, low-fat, and economical source of protein. Many healthy heart programs recommend eating more fish meals due to the effect of fish oils. Other nutrients such as the selenium and iodine found in fish are beneficial for health. Recent studies have shown that eating fish during pregnancy may improve a child’s IQ and ability to learn. However, because some fish tend to take up chemicals (such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl’s- PCBs), many people, including pregnant women, have backed away from eating fish. But this is not necessary if you choose smartly.

To help you do this, each fishing season, the CT Department of Public Health (DPH) issues its annual fish consumption advisory for fish caught in CT waters and for fish from a market. This season, its list of healthiest fish choices include trout and sunfish from CT freshwater bodies, flounder (winter and summer varieties) and scup (porgy) from Long Island Sound. Wild salmon and Pollock are the best choices from the grocery store. These species have been recommended because they can be consumed without limit.

The DPH 2016 Fish Consumption Advisory recommends quantity limits for many fish, adjusted for the risk group you are in. You are in the high-risk group if you are pregnant women, a woman planning pregnancy within a year, a nursing mother or a child under the age of 6. All other persons are in the low-risk group.

For fish from statewide freshwater, high risk groups should consume no more than 1 meal per month; low risk groups, no more than 1 meal per week due to the possibility of mercury. For other fish from specific CT waterbodies, you need to view the chart provided in the brochure as there is too much detail to report here.

For fish from the store, the advisory states the following general guidelines:

  • Persons in high-risk groups can eat up to 2 fish meals per week from either the market or from a restaurant. They should choose from a variety of species, including canned tuna. Persons at high-risk should not ever eat swordfish or shark. They should choose light tuna because it has less mercury than “white” tuna. Lobster and shellfish are generally low in contaminants, but the tomalley portion of lobster (the green gland) can be high in contaminants and should not be eaten. This applies to all lobsters. High risk persons should also avoid sushi containing Kajiki and limit eating sushi made with Ahi, Magoro, and Toro to one meal a week.
  • For all persons, choose from these fish more often: flounder, herring, trout, Atlantic mackerel, sole, sardines and smelts, pollock and salmon (wild) as they are especially low in contaminants. Other fish that are relatively safe to eat and can be consumed up to two meals a week by women, children and low-risk persons are: haddock, Atlantic mackerel, cod, light tuna (canned), shellfish (oysters, shrimp, clams, scallops, lobster), perch, and tilapia.

Special information about trout: Most trout from CT rivers are safe to eat because they usually have little contamination and are routinely re-stocked. However, there are limits on trout from certain waterbodies due to PCBs and on large trout from lakes due to mercury. The brochure details this information.

How you prepare fish can help to decrease your exposure to chemicals. When you cook fish, you will eat less PCBs if you remove skin and other fatty parts. Cook fish on a rack (broil) so that fat can drip away from the flesh. Remove and do not eat the organs, head, skin and the dark fatty tissue along the backbone, lateral lines and belly. Mercury is in the edible (fillet) portion of fish. Therefore, you cannot lower your exposure to mercury by cooking or cleaning the fish. It is important to remember that large fish tend to have the highest levels of PCBs and mercury. Therefore, eat small fish (perch, small trout, sunfish, etc.) instead of large fish whenever possible.

To obtain a copy of the 2016 “If I Catch It, Can I Eat It: A Guide to Eating Fish Safely” go to www.ct.gov/dph/fish. If you do not have internet access, Quinnipiack Valley Health District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call this office, 203 248-4528 to request a copy.

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