Area News | Home | Marketplace | Community

Return to Sports Archives

Paynesville Press - July 16, 2003

Fish consumption limits stricter for Koronis, Rice

For Minnesotans who like to eat the fish they catch from the state's lakes and rivers, mercury remains the contaminant that poses the greatest health risk, according to the Minnesota Department of Health's annual fish consumption advisory.

Released each spring, the advisory provides guidelines on how much fish people can safely consume while minimizing their risks from contaminants like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The recent lists consumption limits for seven species of fish on Lake Koronis, for five species of fish on Rice Lake, and for northern pike on Long Lake by Hawick. All these limits are based on mercury levels in the fish.

For Koronis, consumption limits were added this year for women of childbearing age and for children for black bullheads, for carp, for shorthead redhorse, and for white suckers.

Consumption limits were added for Rice Lake for black crappies, for carp, and for channel catfish.

"This is a valuable tool for Minnesota consumers," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dianne Mandernach. "Fish can be an important part of a healthy diet. By taking a few simple precautions and placing a few limits on your fish consumption, you can still go fishing and safely consume your catch."

In Minnesota, over 90 percent of the advisories to limit consumption are based on levels of mercury. "All fish tested in Minnesota have mercury," said MDH Environmental Scientist Patricia McCann. "In fact, all fish, whether store bought or sport caught, have some mercury. The amount depends on what the fish feed on, how old the fish are, and to some degree the water they live in," she said.

According to results from an ongoing study by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Minnesota fish are low in most contaminants tested, except for mercury. The EPA's four-year National Fish Tissue Study measures contaminants in fish from lakes across the United States.

Results from the first two years of the study were recently released to participating state and tribal agencies.

The levels of mercury and PCBs measured in the fish in the study are typical of what is measured in fish collected and tested for the state's monitoring program, a cooperative effort of Department of Health, the Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency, McCann said. Data from the program are used to produce the annual fish consumption advisory.

The chief concern with mercury in fish is its potential ability to adversely affect the central nervous system, particularly in developing fetuses and children under age 15, McCann said. Methylmercury is the form of mercury in fish. A developing nervous system is more sensitive to the effects from exposure to methylmercury. People are exposed to methylmercury mainly through eating fish.

The MDH fish consumption advisory provides special precautions for women of childbearing age who are pregnant or are planning to be pregnant and children under 15.

"While most mercury exposure is below a level of concern, some groups of people may be exposed to more mercury than is considered safe," McCann said.

Despite concerns over mercury and other contaminants, people should not be discouraged from going fishing or eating their catch, health officials say. Fish is a low-fat, high-quality protein food source and may reduce risk of some chronic illnesses.

Other chemicals included in the EPA study are organophosphate pesticides, dioxins, furans, PCBs, mercury, arsenic, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and other semi-volatile organic compounds. The levels of these chemicals are generally low in Minnesota fish and low in comparison to other areas of the country.

For most people, one to two meals of fish per week are generally considered optimal for balancing the health benefits and the health risk from contaminants in fish. "Choosing which fish to eat for those meals is important to minimize exposure to mercury and other chemicals in fish. Following the guidelines in the MDH fish advisory can keep your exposure to a safe level," McCann said.

The fish advisory is now available in an eight-page brochure, "Eat Fish Often?" that is available by contacting the health department at 1-800-657-3908.

Detailed recommendations are also available at the lake survey reports produced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The lake survey reports are available online at

Contact the author at   •   Return to News Menu

Home | Marketplace | Community