The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued updated advice regarding fish consumption that applies to fish and shellfish caught commercially and sold in U.S. retail outlets in January.
This advice is geared toward helping women who are pregnant or may become pregnant — as well as breastfeeding mothers and parents of young children — make informed choices when it comes to fish that is healthy and safe to eat. The federal guidelines are based on mercury levels found in certain commercial fish species and do not consider fish caught in Delaware waterways by recreational anglers or anglers who rely on locally caught fish to supplement their diets.
Fish and other protein-rich foods have nutrients that can help a child’s growth and development. However, all fish contain at least traces of mercury, which can be harmful to the brain and nervous system if a person is exposed to too much of it over time. Children are sensitive to mercury poisoning because their organs and tissues are developing. If pregnant women ingest methylmercury in fish, there is a danger to the developing nervous systems of their unborn children.
An FDA analysis of fish consumption data found that 50 percent of pregnant women surveyed ate fewer than 2 ounces of fish a week, less than the amount recommended. Because the nutritional benefits of eating lower-mercury fish are important for growth and development during pregnancy and early childhood, the FDA and EPA are advising and promoting a minimum level of seafood consumption for these groups.
The advice recommends two to three servings of lower-mercury fish per week, or 8 to 12 ounces. The new advice is consistent with the 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
To help consumers more easily understand the types of fish to select, the agencies have created an easy-to-use reference chart that sorts 62 types of fish into three categories:
— “Best choices, eat two to three servings a week.
— “Good choices, eat one serving a week.
— “Fish to avoid.
Fish in the best choices category make up nearly 90 percent of fish eaten in the U.S. and often have the lowest levels of mercury.
For adults, a typical serving is 4 ounces of fish, measured before cooking. It is recommended that women of childbearing age — about ages 16 to 49, especially pregnant and breastfeeding women — eat two to three servings of fish a week from the best choices list or one serving from the good choices list.
Serving sizes for children should be smaller and adjusted for their age and total calorie needs. It is recommended that starting at age 2, children eat about 2 ounces of fish once or twice a week.
In June 2016, DPH and DNREC issued updated fish consumption advisories for fish caught by recreational anglers in Delaware’s fresh, estuarine and marine waters. The state advisories and more information can be found at bit.ly/2qjgxAO.