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U.S. Agencies Release Advice on Eating Fish

The EPA and FDA have listed trout among the "best choices" in new advice for fish consumption. (Hajime NAKANO/Flickr)
The EPA and FDA have listed trout among the "best choices" in new advice for fish consumption. (Hajime NAKANO/Flickr)
January 20, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. - Two federal agencies have released new advice on how much and which types of fish are safe to eat, especially for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.

The Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency say more than 90 percent of fish are safe to eat. The agencies have categorized more than 60 types of fish and shellfish as "best," "good" or "choices to avoid."

Elizabeth Southerland, director of science and technology at the EPA's Office of Water, said fish that are safe to eat contain essential nutrients and fatty acids that are beneficial for pregnant women.

"They're a high-quality source of protein, which is especially important for fetal development and for young children," she said. "Again, the only concern we have about eating a lot of fish is if you're eating a lot of fish that's high in mercury."

The agencies recommend two to three servings a week from the "best choices" category and only one serving from the list of "good choices." The recommended serving size is four ounces - or about the size of your palm - for adults and two ounces for children ages 4 to 7.

The new guidelines are a shift from earlier messaging, when federal agencies advised the public about the dangers of eating too much fish. Now, Southerland said, they want to highlight a more positive message - even suggesting pregnant women or women who may become pregnant eat a minimum of eight ounces of fish a week.

"FDA did an analysis of fish consumption back in 2005, and pregnant women ate fewer than two ounces a week," she said, "and that's a shame because, again, it is a high nutrition source, with nutrients and high-quality protein."

As a general rule, Southerland said, fish that live longer tend to accumulate more mercury in their tissue and should be avoided. Some of those on the list to avoid include shark, swordfish and bigeye tuna. Many states also publish guidelines about where it's safe, or not, to catch and consume fish from local waters.

A fish safety chart is online at fda.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR