Importance of using the Eat Safe Fish Guides

Educate yourself about health risks before you eat fish caught in Michigan lakes or rivers.

Michigan’s lakes and rivers teem with a variety of fish, however, there may be identified toxins found in some fish that could pose serious health risks. To assist consumers, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) publishes the East Safe Fish Guides which contain important information about harmful chemicals found in some Michigan fish, and best methods to select local, safe and healthful fish that are low in chemicals. Michigan State University Extension encourages people to download or order the guide for your region as it contains a useful five-question quiz to determine if you are at a lower or higher risk for eating certain fish caught or bought in Michigan. The guides are available in several languages.

Be aware of your surroundings; do not eat fish from a water source where signs are posted by MDCH warning “Do Not Eat.” Serious health risks and illnesses can occur from the chemicals and toxins that have accumulated in fish. Certain chemicals like dioxins and PCBs can remain in the human body for 35 to 60 years. The threat of illness and chronic disease due to consuming too much of these chemicals is real, and everyone should avoid swimming and fishing in water where “Do Not Eat” signs have been posted.  

Water quality is also monitored scientifically. Changes in area lakes and rivers can occur because of harmful bacteria, algae blooms or open sewage. Temporary warnings against touching contaminated water and the fish in the water may be issued by local health departments. Call your local health department to learn more about water quality warnings in your area or visit the Department of Environmental Quality.

Fish is a good source of protein and a heart-healthy food choice for most people. Smaller fish tend to contain fewer chemicals making them a better choice over larger bottom-feeding fish. You can consume fish safely by being well informed about the type of fish that MDCH has recognized as safe. MDCH performs annual scientific testing to communicate to consumers through the Eat Safe Fish Guides which fish are safe to cook and consume.

Following the safe fish guidelines are especially important for several groups of people, including young children, youth under the age of 15 and individuals with weakened immune systems. Women who plan to conceive within several years should be well informed about which fish are not safe to eat, to help prevent complications during pregnancy and to their future child. Based on your health status you may need to avoid certain fish or eat them only occasionally rather than regularly.

Fishing in Michigan is enjoyed by young and old alike. However, even a seasoned fisherman will not be able to tell just by examining it if a fish is safe to eat. Nor can people see chemicals like mercury in the water, or tell by the clarity of water if it is safe to eat the fish that swim underneath the surface. You can make safe, healthy and informed decisions and continue to enjoy Michigan fish by regularly consulting the Eat Safe Fish Guide for your area.

To learn more about local fish, water quality, safe food and nutrition, contact your local MSU Extension office to find educational programs near you.

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