Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet.  They contain protein and other essential nutrients,  are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids.  A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of seafood can contribute to heart health and children’s proper growth and development.

However, nearly all seafood contains traces of mercury.   For most people, the risk from mercury in fish is not a health concern.   Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system and this depends on the amount of seafood eaten and the levels of mercury in these foods.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise that women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children avoid some types of fish and shellfish.

To reduce exposure to mercury while obtaining benefits of eating fish, the FDA recommends that you:

1.   Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.

2.  Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury (shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, and catfish).

What effect does the oil spill have on the fish in the Gulf of Mexico?

The FDA is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service, the EPA, other Federal agencies and several state authorities in the regions affected by the recent oil spill.  Federal and state officials are monitoring the waters from which seafood is harvested and will act to close areas contaminated by the oil spill to fishing.  A large area of the Gulf of Mexico and been closed to commercial fishing and the FDA has authority to seize any adulterated seafood that may show up in markets.

According to the FDA:

  • Although crude oil has the potential to taint seafood with flavors and odors cause by exposure to hydrocarbon chemicals, the public should not be concerned about the safety of seafood in stores at this time.
  • Fish and shellfish harvested from areas unaffected by the closures are considered safe to eat.

For more information about the effect of the oil spill on pregnant women, click here

You can call 1-888-INFO-FDA if you have concerns about seafood you have purchased that you suspect is contaminated with oil.



Very useful information about the types of fish that are and are not mercury tainted. As an aside - have studies been done on the Clown Fish (the illustration used in this post) Sorry Nemo, I couldn't resist. :-)

As tragic as this oil spill is to the environment,food supply and livelihoods of many honest folk, this may be only the tip of the iceberg in view of the nature of the chemical dispersants being used by BP to break up the oil. Such are unsafe and may well cause cancer. Your recommendation to eat smaller variety of fish due to mercury contaminations is very sound advice balanced with the reality that good health is tied up with our body's need for omega 3 fats as found in sea food. All life in the sea is based on the existence of omega 3 which is found in plankton, the food of the oceans. This makes this sorry tale all the more tragic!

Hi, Thank you very much for great information you are provided, we are love to fish and eat all our catch and don't realize that these fish are contain mercury. My wife is pregnant and we are try to get as much as possible information for our healthy life and i though by consume a lot of fish would make us more healthy. Thank's again for your value info and we'll back soon to check other update from your site

I live in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and one of the things I love to eat is smoked marlin burritos. Only recently did I discover its high mercury levels. Is there a place I can send a sample to be tested for mercury and other heavy metals?

Nice to know about the safety of seafood after the oil spill. I regularly eat tuna and shrimp because of the Omega-3 fatty acids. Also a good source of protein especially if you are into weight lifting. I never new that some of these contained that much mercury. Nice read. Thank You.

As a pregnancy coach I've always stated the following to my students; Canned tuna in moderation should be okay to consume while you are pregnant as it contains only small traces of mercury. Smoked seafood that has a label saying it is jerky, nova style, kippered or lox can be contaminated with listeria and should be put on your pregnancy diet plan as foods to avoid. Some canned smoked seafood may be okay to eat when used for cooking.

I am from Asia and we are surrounded by water. Fishing is one of our industry and this information is very useful to us. As we all know, awareness is a weapon to fight disaster. Hope to see more informative article like this!

There are so many things to consider when it comes to fish and what levels are ok. Rule of thumb, Only eat one to two meals of any kind of fish per week. Just my two cents:)

You knokw this topic doesn't come up as much as it should, but when an oil spill happens I personally keep away from the fish in that area, and trust me I recommend to anyone to extend the reasonable distance to be causious. I run a fishing related website, and fishing is part of my life that I love! I agree fish and other seafoods provide a great amount of nutrients that are not found in so many other types of foods, and deep sea fish provide very high amounts of content of these essential fats we require. What some people don't know is that zinc can be found in some seafoods, and this trace-mineral is a very hard one to find in other foods, and normally only appear in large amounts in foods that most do not eat, for example pumkin seeds - but who eats these? Well I know when you make pumpkin soup if you boil the seas, and pull the white centre than you can blend it in to the soup - a very nutritious addition to the soup. But I always take the safe approach and always buy fish from clean waters, or from the water I fish from personally, which I konw is clean. I always say the safest way to eat seafood is to catch it yourself, at least you know where it came from, however this is not for everyone so just make sure you check the origin of the food before eating it.

Today (2010JUL28) the CS Monitor said that most of the Gulf oil slicks seem to be "vanishing." They say it's because of the oil-eating bacteria processing it quickly. But what does that mean further up the food chain? Is this setting up the food supply for some kind of "backdoor surprise" a few months from now when the fishing grounds get opened back up because the water "looks fine," then BOOM! People find out all those crude oil contaminants (including mercury) are actually being stored quite nicely in the muscle tissue of their favorite Gulf fillet. I don't know. Maybe it'll just all turn out rosy! Just be careful pregnant women! Mercury's neurotoxic to everybody, but to a fetus - it's Really Bad. And, yeah, fish oil is high in omega 3s (and superior to most plant-based options for omega 3s in particular), but flax oil is better balanced in 3s, 6s, and 9s. My recommendation: Hold off on your Gulf of Mexico red snapper and grouper, and getcha some flax oil (in soft gelcaps) and some Norwegian fish oil (in dark green bottle at health food store - if you didn't know it was from a fish you might not even suspect it because the flavor's masked so well - lemony-yum) Do this 'til we know for sure that the coast is clear...and that the water's clear, too. (Thanks Sharon - important stuff - I have 4 kids myself, so, I k-n-o-w first hand that mom's can fool around with what they're consuming.)

Hi, I also live in Puerto Vallarta, and have limited my fish consumption after this news. Krystal, there are some laboratories in Mexico city that can do the testing, but it is an expensive procedure, probably not worth it. There are people here who fish all day and night, and live on it, and they are some of the healthiest people I've ever seen, maybe due to other factors and an overall healthy living environment. I wouldn't freak out too much, just err on the side of caution. --Mary

I think this is going to be a huge issue given that most of the gulf is now contaminated. It may be years before seafood is safe to consume again.

I have to say I wouldn't trust anything the FDA says, so I would steer clear of Atlantic fish for now since the spill.

This article really freaked me out. I regularly feed my child little bits of fish because it's so easy for them to swallow and it's \supposed\ to contain lots of proteins and other useful building materials for young children. However, mercury poisoning of my baby is one of my biggest fears because it's so hard to get it out of your system and it can do a lot of damage to such a young child.

Nice post. Just wanted to add that DHA (Docosahexaeonic Acid) which is predominantly found in fish oil also forms the major bulk of the oil found in our brain. Thus intake of fish oil supplements helps in proper development of brain cells and cognitive system in fetus and first few years of a baby. Low DHA is also known to cause depression in nursing mothers.

Thankyou for an informative post. I encourage the family to eat a lot of fish since I once worked in a Mental Health environment with people suffering from Alzheimers and heard at the time that fish oils were thought to b linked in some way to resisting Alzheimers. Related that to comment 12 above and it seems the "old wives tale" may have some substance. One question. Is there any food out there which has 100% no negative impact even if consumed to excess?

So many people like me, just eat what they like, and now I am getting more and more aware of the importance of knowing what is best for me. Thank you.

One web site that I find helpful in guiding me to safe seafood purchases is Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay aquarium. Since so many people are interested in eating healthy seafood demand has gone up and it has lead to widespread fish farming. Farmed fish from some areas of the world are safe because they follow safe fish farming practices. Farmed fish from other areas should be avoided because of contamination or not following safe fish farming practices.

Many people take fish oil supplements and I take one too, interspersing it with another vitamin supplement. When it comes to the fish, I am very particular about where the fish comes from. The more pristine the waters, the better. Mine is made from hoki fish from New Zealand's pristine waters. You definitely want molecularly distilled fish oil and you don't want fish or fish oil supplements that come from waters that are heavy oil-production areas. GR

I think this is an issue that is often overlooked or not discussed enough, so thank you for bringing attention to the risk of mercury poisoning from fish. I am worried that the oil spill will have a long-term effect on the fish and shellfish we consume, even if the FDA is stating they are safe to eat. I think it is important to be aware of what we are eating, how it is harvested and where it is coming from. (Although a rare choice, dolphin has a large amount of mercury as well...and you may be consuming dolphin meat unknowingly as it is sometimes packaged and labeled as something else..for more information watch the documentary The Cove)Thank you for the great post

To reduce exposure to mercury while obtaining benefits of eating fish, the FDA recommends that you: Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. That's a great tip. I heard just this morning that the oil spill microbes arent working.

I will definitely agree that fish and shellfish are important part of our healthy diet. Most of the time, it is much better to eat fish and shellfish than meat since they are healthier than meat. One of the most important nutrients that we can get from seafoods are iodine. So eat less meat and eat more seafoods for a healthier lifestyle.

It is good that your list of low mercury fish also includes less heavily over fished species like haddock and catfish, to encourage people to eat these more sustainable fish types.

This is very useful information for the general public to realize that while it is healthy to eat fish, you have to be careful the level of intake. Certain types of fish, as you noted, have those higher levels of Mercury which is not healthy for us to consume a lot of.

Great article. I'm not convinced that our sea life isn't gradually becoming worse and worse for us. It would really take a simple collective effort to start making things right again. Not a quick fix, but something that builds over time so we don't one day lose this beautiful planet.

Just like the commenter a few comments above, I too love swordfish. But I think I'll avoid all fish for the time being, not just the few listed here. I'm not too concerned about the mercury - from what I've seen recently a bigger concern is the crude oil spill (my husband is in oil removal industry, and I know firsthand just exactly how persistent that stuff is).

Thanks for the information. I understand that this contamination in fish, can affect a baby. The worst nightmare of the cell are heavy metals and the worst, is mercury.

Hi, thanks for the information.. I think we need to be more careful in consuming fish

This post is great in that it identifies the types of fish in which the amounts of mercury is higher and the types of fish with lesser amounts of mercury. It also specifies that traces of mercury are most detrimental to unborn babies and to young children's developing nervous systems. I believe this clears up many of the questions and concerns that people have about mercury levels in fish. Fish provides omega 3's and other nutrients that should be included in a healthy diet.

Great article. Reinforces the fact that we as Americans need to get back to the basics for our survival. The farmer's are being driven out of business by Big Industries that want to produce all our food. Does this mean we will lose the ability to fend for ourselves?

It's good to know which fish to avoid. I think mackerel is the only one of those I've ever eaten, but it's still good to know.

I really like this article because it talks about the different types of fish that may have large amounts of mercury and which ones to be careful of consuming. This is especially helpful for those who are fish lovers and may be eating certain fish that may be harmful to them.

This article is really an eye opener to me and for everybody. Thanks for the tips and information shared. Keep on posting!

You are absolutely right, fish is a great and healthy food. Well balanced and full of protein. That is why I am so crazy about fishing.

very important topic nowadays. We need to make sure the food we eat is healthy.

This post is very helpful and informative. Thanks for sharing this post, it could save life and protect every humans. I just though that fish is the safest food to eat but this changed my perspective. I rather eat Chicken now.

Quite an informative post. Oil spillage did really impact our lives due to the fishes that we eat. The good news is that more and more people are aware of the importance of taking good care of the environment. And your blog also contribute the effort.. ^^ Shawn

Has the Gulf oil spill made you rethink eating fish? ... from fish without risking contamination from the oil spill or other pollutants, like mercury.

The line in this article that sticks in my brain is "However, nearly all seafood contains traces of mercury." That is scary for me personally because I am a huge lover of all seafood and eat it any chance I get. I may have to change my eating habits!

Thank you for this wonderful eye opener. I love fish, but now I am going to be a lot more careful when choosing which of our slippery friends to eat. Thank you for posting.

The FDA was testing fish for oil but not corexit the oil dispersant used on the Gulf Of Mexico oil spill. I think its to early to call all Gulf Sea food safe again to eat.

The problem with experts is one minute they tell you something is bad for your health and lo and behold 3 months later another expert is saying the opposite. I believe in eating and drinking in moderation. Having said that,I take aboard the salient points regarding oil spills and the like. All in all an eye opening article.

I read this article some months ago for the 1st time. I steayed satisfied. But now, I was thinking about it. Where can I find updated info about fishes that exposure us to the mercury. Did FDA make any changes about his list and recommendatiosn during last months? Fish lovers and health families must be interested on it. Thanks...

I love fish and FISH is one of the most important diet for health. Instead of we can always eat river or farm fish. I think in general all fish should be good.

thanks for this article, i'd not really thought about mercury contamination in seafood but it's really worrying. I've even just switched the brand of cod liver oil that I buy to specifically choose on that's tested for mercury levels.

As a fly angler, I release most of the fish I catch, however I do enjoy eating fish. This gives me cause for concern! I wish there were still some unpolluted areas on this earth where I could move to, but where the elements weren't extreme! Editor's note: I agree, many anglers in my family.

I love fish and FISH is one of the most important diet for health. Instead of we can always eat river or farm fish. I think in general all fish should be good.