A new guide will help local anglers identify fish that are safe to eat, thanks to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center. The new website and brochure provide health advisories on consumption of fish caught in the North Carolina Triangle area. The materials combine information about possible contaminants and their health effects, with emphasis on the importance of eating fish as part of a healthy diet.
“The idea for the guide came about when two of our longtime community partners — Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr and Lake Crabtree County Park Manager Drew Cade — shared concerns that fishermen, especially Spanish-speaking anglers, were eating fish caught from local waterways contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs] from a nearby Superfund site,” explained Kathleen Gray, SRP Research Translation Core leader.
The guide is locally specific, but anglers across the state and the nation can benefit from descriptions of how to prepare fish to reduce exposures, and health effects of eating contaminated fish.
Risks from local waterways
The new resource provides information about PCBs and mercury — two harmful substances that can build up in fish — and why water in the Triangle is contaminated with them. It also explains that PCBs and mercury have neither odor nor color, so smelling or tasting a fish will not reveal whether it is contaminated.
The researchers who prepared the materials emphasized that these substances are especially dangerous for children and women who are thinking about becoming pregnant. However, they also said that most fish are safe to eat, and fish are an important part of a healthy diet, as long as you choose your fish wisely.
Eat Fish, Choose Wisely
When researchers and staff at the center interviewed local fishermen, they learned that besides wanting to know more about sources of contamination, anglers also wanted a map showing contaminated water and nearby areas where they can catch fish that are safer to eat.
The Eat Fish, Choose Wisely guide includes a color-coded map of area fishing sites, with each color corresponding to a different recommendation for fish consumption. For example, fish from waters outlined by a purple line should not be eaten by anyone. Waters outlined in red, orange, and yellow include advisories for specific types of fish that should be avoided, as well as consumption limits on other species, depending on the outline color. Areas of the state where mercury is of concern are described, as well.
The advisory includes stricter recommendations for people who are more vulnerable to the known contaminants, including children and women of childbearing age.
Researchers provided advice on the best ways to prepare and consume fish from these areas to reduce exposures. For example, the guide recommends eating only the skinless fillet, which is the part least contaminated with PCBs and mercury. It also recommends giving children smaller servings.
(Sara Mishamandani is a research and communication specialist for MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)