What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
2004 EPA and FDA Advice for:
Women Who Might Become Pregnant
Women Who are Pregnant
Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and
shellfish contain high-quality 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 fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and
children's proper growth and development. So, women and young children in
particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many
However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. For most
people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish 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. The risks from
mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten
and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish. Therefore, the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are
advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and
young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are
lower in mercury.
By following these 3 recommendations for selecting and eating fish or
shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish
and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the
harmful effects of mercury.
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.
- Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp,
canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
- Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more
mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and
shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per
3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends
in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat
up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters,
but don't consume any other fish during that week.
Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your
young child, but serve smaller portions.
Frequently Asked Questions about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish:
1. What is mercury and methylmercury?
2. I'm a woman who could have children but I'm not pregnant - so
why should I be concerned about methylmercury?
3. Is there methylmercury in all fish and shellfish?
4. I don't see the fish I eat in the advisory. What should I
5. What about fish sticks and fast food sandwiches?
6. The advice about canned tuna is in the advisory, but what's
the advice about tuna steaks?
7. What if I eat more than the recommended amount of fish and
shellfish in a week?
8. Where do I get information about the safety of fish caught
recreationally by family or friends?