Alaska Seine Boat F/V JourneymanAlaskan’s have become increasingly aware of the relationship of mercury and guidelines for fish consumption. Much of this awareness is the result of efforts made by activists like Dr. Jane Hightower MD, who recently had her book Diagnosis Mercury: Money, Politics, and Poison published. State public health officials continue to emphasize how important the benefits of eating wild Alaska seafood is to residents.

Mercury and other contaminants accumulate over time in fish and seafood. Fish with short life cycles like wild salmon offer almost no risk of exposure to mercury or persistent organic pollutants (POPS). Risk increases with longer-lived fish like large halibut and salmon sharks.

Alaska Fish Consumption Guidelines

Two departments of Alaska government, Environmental Conservation and Health & Social Services, work together to monitor the level of contaminants found in Alaska’s fish and establish fish consumption guidelines. Only five species of Alaska fish are found to carry excessive levels of mercury. They are Yelloweye rockfish, large halibut, large lingcos, salmon shark, and spiny dogfish.

The State of Alaska recommends that women who are or can become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young women limit their consumption of certain types of fish. There have been no limits set for men, boys or women who cannot become pregnant. The Alaska Division of Public Health has published a guide aimed at this population to limit the intake of mercury from fish. Suggestions found in this fish consumption calculator could benefit everyone. On a point basis, long lived fish like large halibut, salmon shark or spiny dogfish should only be eaten weekly, while unlimited amounts of wild salmon, small halibut, and Pacific cod can be consumed.

Speaking about the fish consumption guidelines for Alaskan residents, Public Health Toxicologist Dr. Lori Verbrugge says, “Fish is an excellent source of lean protein, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins. Although we recommend that everyone eat fish at least twice a week, our new guidelines offer specific advice on how to minimize mercury exposure for sensitive groups — namely women who are or can become pregnant, nursing mothers, and children age 12 and under.”

Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Guidelines

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDC) maintains a useful website that helps consumers make informed choices in their consumption of fish and seafood. Their guidelines follow similar concepts proposed by the State of Alaska. Longer-lived fish tend to accumulate more toxins in their flesh. The organization also addresses the ecological consequences of fish harvests with an emphasis on sustainable fisheries throughout the world.

The Seafood Selector published by the EDC breaks choices into color coded categories of red, yellow, and green for the worst, better, and best fish or seafood that should be purchased. This site also offers numerous resources like pocket seafood guides, guides for mobile phones, a sushi selector, cooking tips, and recipes.

Making Informed Choices as Consumers

It is apparent and important to note that fish and seafood offer important health benefits to consumers. Awareness has grown concerning the presence of contaminants in the food chain and consumers are gaining greater access to useful information to guide their decision-making. The quality of fish reared in the pristine waters of Alaska makes it a welcome menu item of choice in this though process.

Time for some grilled Copper River Red salmon!

Copyright © 2013 by Alan Sorum

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