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.



I told my wife to avoid fish at all times during her pregnancy, you can't risk it with a pregnancy especially with the high amounts of mercury in fish these days.

Thanks, plenty of useful information for all the fish lovers.

I saw how lethal mercury is to brain cells in that documentary about mercury in amalgam fillings (scary). I just wonder how fish compares in levels of toxicity now that cat's out of the bag

With my first and second pregnancy, i ate a moderate amount of fish. I stayed away from the high level mercury fish. I believe with pregnancy, everything should be done in moderation..whether it be exercising, eating certain foods, etc. Thanks for this article. Cheers, Joojoo

Avoiding certain fish altogether (such as shark and swordfish) is really a good idea. A nice variety of fish and shellfish should suffice, but even still... we are simply living in an industrialized world where risks abound. That said, purified fish oil supplements may be our best bet for enjoying all of the health benefits that some seafood has been shown to provide. In any case, I really enjoyed your article and look forward to reading more. Thank you.

I'm glad to hear that in most seafood, the mercury level is not high. I agree with the person above. It really is scary to think that the mercury in seafood can affect an unborn baby.

Even as careful as we are, we are still inundated with heavy metals and toxins. We really have made a mess of our world.

It's scary to think that the high level of mercury in some fish can really damage a baby. It's not like high mercury type fish are rare either. Eating shark may be something taboo to some but eating King Mackerel is not!

Great article. The longer a fish lives the more it absorbs mercury. This is one of the things that makes "Mahi Mai" such a wonderful fish. They grow fast. They are fun to catch. They taste great! THanks again for the great article! Cheers, Rico

I have fished my whole life and love seafood so am always dismayed to read about fish being tainted. And when they warn that pregnant women shouldn't consume something it makes me think twice, though I am an non-pregnant male. Thanks for this post!

This is a very interesting topic. Is there any other reason not to eat mercury or is it just for young children and pregnant woman? REPLY: Mercury is a heavy metal and dangerous when it is ingested via oral or skin.

I love fish and often eat more that 12 oz. per week. Is that not recommended due to increased exposure to mercury? Who said life was easy? :)

Good info about the amount of mercury found in shellfish. I'm from baton rouge la, and now live in Monroe,LA so we are very aware of where we get our seafood because of the oil spill. Also we live in a state where shellfish is served in almost every restaurant on every corner so it is easy not to notice that we are eating too much seafood which could result in having a higher level of mercury in our body.

I am very interested in the effects of zinc supplements upon sense of taste, particularly after tonsillectomy. thoughts?

I really love to read articles that have good information and ideas to share to each reader. I hope to read more from you guys and continue that good work that is really inspiring to us. Great Job!

The further up the food chain the more mercury you will find in fish.. Marlin and Shark contain the most mercury as a majority of fish which they consume eat other fish etc etc. Shark eats Marlin, Marlin eats Tuna, Tuna eats Mackerel, Mackerel eats Bait etc..

As someone who works physically and who grew up in the household where we ate a lot of fish, I continue eating fish every day. That is why I was searching information on fish and mercury. Thanks for this article Dmitry

Worrying about mercury in your fish(unless you are pregnant) has the unfortunate side effect of driving people to eat more red meat and less fish. While I believe consumers should be aware of mercury and their food, I think a little context needs to be provided.

Thanks for the article. Some of our fishing charter customers ask about mercury content in the striped bass we catch in Long Island Sound. The state DEEP here in CT advises limited consumption. Do you have any additional advice? Thanks again, Captain Chris EDITOR'S NOTE: Sorry, I am not an expert on this topic and suggest you continue to monitor DEEP reports. Certainly pregnant women may want to restrict eating too much fish.

I come from Grimsby in the Uk and we have the largest fish market in Europe but I have read nothing of the dangers of fish having a high mercury content. How does this apply to North Atlantic fish such as cod or haddock?

I've always been afraid of fish lately as who know what has been dumped in the oceans. Pollution sucks. Good post. Thanks

Thank you for this information. I had read that one should avoid larger species of fish as they tend to consume higher quantities of smaller fish which may increase the overall mercury 'load' in the larger species. Smaller fish are reported to have lower levels of mercury; fish such as sardines are said to contain less mercury than larger fish.

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. real?

wow thank you for your post here i learn alot from it and is very informative it help to generate alot of benefit for your readers too thank you.

its interesting that eating different types of fish can help balance the mercury level in your diet.

Thanks for the heads up. I love fish. Just today I was eating crab, mussels, prawns and king prawns. I have never given any consideration to the mercury content of fish. I will in future!