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Eat Fish Safely: Recommendations

Why should I eat fish?

Fish have a lot of health benefits that make eating them good for you:

  • Excellent source of omega-3s—Some fish have omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients support brain development in babies and heart health for all.
  • High in protein—Fish offer a lot of good protein.
  • Low calorie—Fish are naturally low in calories. Eating fish can help you keep a healthy weight.

What chemicals are in some fish?

In Wisconsin, the most common water contaminants found in Wisconsin fish are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, and perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

PCBs are human-made compounds. In the past, they were used a lot in manufacturing. PCBs don’t break down easily, so they are still found in our environment. They remain in sediments near industries that made or used PCBs.

People are exposed to PCBs when they eat fish from contaminated waters.

Ways to reduce your exposure to PCBs from fish:

  • Avoid eating fatty fish, bottom feeding fish, and fish from contaminated waters.
  • Choose to eat smaller, younger fish.

Mercury is a natural element. It’s released into the air during different processes, such as burning coal. Mercury can travel far and get in soil and lakes.

Mercury can build up in fish, wildlife, and humans who eat food from the water. People are exposed to mercury mainly from eating fish or shellfish. You can’t remove mercury from fish.

To reduce your intake of mercury from fish, choose fish species with known lower levels of mercury.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances, are a group of chemicals made by humans. Since the 1950s, PFAS have been used in many consumer products and industrial processes. They have properties that resist heat, grease, and water. PFAS stays in the environment and can stay in the human body for a long time.

Eating fish is one way people get exposed to PFAS. You can’t remove it from fish. To reduce your intake of PFAS from fish, choose fish species with known lower levels of PFAS.

For more information, view:

Should I be concerned about store-bought or local fish?

You have little cause for concern if you eat or buy a variety of commercial fish, or you eat less than one meal per week of fish.

Most ocean fish you find at the store have very low levels of mercury. These fish include pollock, shrimp, and salmon. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency suggest that people who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant not eat swordfish, shark, king mackerel, or tilefish. These fish have higher levels of mercury.

A Wisconsin fish fry often serves cod, haddock, or perch. These species of fish are among the safest to eat.

Whether you buy your fish at the store or catch it in Wisconsin waters, watch the amount and species that you’re eating. Follow the state’s fish consumption advisory notices to know which fish are safest.

View Choose Fish and Shellfish Wisely.

How do I prepare fish to eat?

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says that you can reduce some (not all) PCBs in fish when you prepare it. You can get rid of some PCBs by properly trimming, skinning, and cooking fish in a way that reduces fatty tissue. Heat from cooking can also melt some of the fat in fish. Broil, grill, or bake the fish on a rack, so the fat drips away. Don’t use the drippings to make sauce or gravy.

You can’t reduce the amount of mercury in fish. You can reduce how much you eat by eating smaller fish, choosing fish species with known lower amounts of mercury, and not eating fish from lakes with high concentrations of mercury.

Where can I find warnings about fish?

The DNR has a tool to Find the Advice for Eating Fish from Wisconsin Waters. You can search to find advisories near you.

For warnings or advisories about store-bought or restaurant fish, see:

Last revised April 17, 2023