Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

May 17, 2004

Choose fish, but choose wisely

From the DNR

Minnesotans concerned about their health are wise to include fish in their diet, but need to be aware of the risks posed by contaminants in fish.

That’s the main message contained in the Minnesota Department of Health’s (MDH) annual fish consumption advisory, updated and released each spring to help consumers make wise choices about the kinds of fish they eat and how often to eat fish.

The advisory is available on line or in brochure format by contacting the department.

“Fish are an excellent food source, high in protein, vitamins and minerals and low in saturated fat,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dianne Mandernach. “And studies have shown that eating fish may help prevent heart disease in adults. However, even fish should be eaten in moderation,” Mandernach said, “because any fish could contain harmful chemicals, such as mercury or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).”

The advisory provides guidelines on how much fish people can safely consume while minimizing their risks from contaminants.

The advisory contains guidelines for both sport-caught and commercial fish.

Generally, the smaller the fish the safer, but some species tend to accumulate more contaminants than others.

“In terms of safety, not all fish are created equal,” said Patricia McCann, an environmental scientist for MDH who analyzes data on both Minnesota-caught and commercial fish. “And good choices about fish are not the same for everybody.”

Pregnant and breastfeeding women, who are planning to be pregnant and children under 15 are more sensitive to contaminants and need to take extra precautions to minimize their risks from eating fish.

This does not mean, however, that they should stop eating fish, McCann said. The oils in fish are important for brain and eye development.

The advisory provides guidelines for people in these groups. For example, while one meal a week of locally-caught panfish would not pose a health risk, people in the group should not eat any large walleye, large northern pike, shark or swordfish.

There are many species of fish that can be eaten twice per week by this group.

In March, the Food and Drug Administration published new data on levels of mercury in commercial fish. “We’ve revised our advice in the ‘Expectant Mother’s Guide’ to reflect these changes in reported mercury concentrations,” McCann said. Of note is the change in advice for canned tuna - two meals per week for canned “light” and two meals per month for canned “white” tuna. “Unfortunately, mercury levels in canned ‘white’ (albacore) tuna are higher than canned ‘light’ tuna,” she said.

MDH continues to recommend eating all types of salmon - canned, fresh wild-caught and farm-raised. Although the levels of contaminants in farm-raised salmon are higher than wild-caught salmon, the levels are still relatively low and it is a good food choice. Contaminants are higher in farm-raised salmon because of the processed feed, McCann said.

For most people, two meals of fish per week are generally considered optimal for balancing the health benefits and the health risk from contaminants in fish.

“Choosing which fish to eat for those meals is important to minimize exposure to mercury and other chemicals in fish. Following the MDH fish consumption guidelines keeps your exposure to a safe level,” McCann said. “The right fish choice depends on each person and his or her health status.”

Considering this, people who need to be very careful about the amount of mercury they consume, such as pregnant women, may want to choose the “light” canned tuna instead of albacore canned tuna and smaller locally-caught fish.

An older person or men in general may choose a certain fish based on its content of beneficial Omega-3 oils more than on its mercury content.

General statewide consumption guidelines are available online at and in the form of an eight-page brochure, “Eat Fish Often?” which is available by contacting MDH at (651) 215-0950 or 1-800-657-3908.

More detailed, site-specific recommendations are available on the MDH web site or by contacting MDH.

The recommendations have been updated this year with information on additional lakes and rivers that have been tested.

Detailed recommendations are also available in the Lake Survey Reports produced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The Lake Survey Reports are also available online at

The MDH also has a separate publication that provides additional information for pregnant women.

“An Expectant Mother’s Guide to Eating Minnesota Fish” is available in both English and Spanish. Both are available online at

Take a kid fishing

The Winsted Sportsmen club is hosting its annual ‘take a kid fishing’ even Sunday, June 13.

To register, or for more information, call Tom Kieser at (952) 955-1704.

The preregistration is Tuesday, June 8.

The event, held on Lake Mary, begins at 1 p.m. with registration, fishing from 2 to 4 p.m., and meal and prizes from 4 to 5 p.m.

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