Women, kids urged to avoid mercury-tainted fish from California lakes


Children and women of childbearing age should not eat bass, carp and larger brown trout caught in California lakes and reservoirs because they contain unhealthy levels of mercury, according to a state health advisory issued Thursday.

Instead, they should opt for wild-caught rainbow trout and smaller brown trout, which have less mercury and higher amounts of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment says. The agency also suggests women over 45 and men limit themselves to one serving per week of bass, carp or brown trout more than 16 inches long.

The warnings are the first to be issued statewide for freshwater fish and take effect immediately in hundreds of California lakes and reservoirs.


To come up with the safe-eating guidelines, government scientists pulled together more than five years of data on mercury concentrations in fish from more than 270 lakes and reservoirs and compared them to acceptable human exposure levels.

“It’s not our intent to scare people away from going out and catching fish and eating them, we just want to get them to think about which fish they’re eating,” said Robert Brodberg, lead fish toxicologist for California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. “We’d like to move people away from the fish that are higher in contaminants and toward those that are lower.”

Mercury, a poisonous metal that builds up in the flesh of fish, also accumulates in the bodies of people who eat them. Larger, predatory fish such as bass have more of the toxin, which concentrates in their tissues when they eat fish lower down on the food chain.

The persistence of mercury in California freshwater fish is a legacy of past mining activity, according to the state agency. But mercury is also a global pollutant generated from coal combustion and other industrial activity and deposited from the atmosphere.

Mercury can harm the brain and nervous system, particularly of children and fetuses, who are more susceptible to the poison because they are still developing.

California officials have previously issued local fish advisories for dozens of lakes, rivers, bays and stretches of coastline to protect anglers from fish contaminated with mercury, PCBs and other toxins. They include some three dozen lakes, San Francisco Bay and a “red zone” from Santa Monica to Seal Beach.

The new recommendations go into effect immediately for all lakes and reservoirs that are not covered by existing advisories.

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