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Children's Health Protection

Something's Fishy

Mercury is not just a planet. It’s a toxic metal that could end up on your dinner table. Mercury can be found in many places. Mercury is found naturally in coal that is used by power plants to produce electricity. When these power plants burn coal, they release mercury into the air, which eventually falls to the ground and on surface waters. In water, mercury is changed into methylmercury through a chemical reaction and can end up in fish. Methylmercury is very toxic. You and your family may be exposed to methylmercury by eating certain types of contaminated fish.

Mercury may cause several health problems for you, your family, and friends. Children born to moms with high levels of mercury in their blood may have developmental disorders.

Does this mean you should avoid eating fish? No! Fish is an important part of a balanced diet. The type and the amount of the fish you choose to eat is key. If you like to eat the fish you catch, contact your local health or environment department to find out which fish to avoid in your area. Eating fish you buy in a store or restaurant is a little different. Women of childbearing age, women who are nursing, and young children should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. However, it is recommended that they eat fish and shell fish that are low in mercury (salmon, farmed-raised catfish, canned light tuna, and shrimp) twice a week. You can learn about these tips and the fish in your area at www.epa.gov/waterscience/fish.

To learn more about how you can avoid mercury and other pollutants in the fish you catch, check out the following tips and activities.


  1. Become mercury safe

    • Mercury, unlike some other harmful pollutants, is stored in the tissue of fish that we eat. Removing the fat, skin, and organs will not reduce exposure to harmful levels of mercury in fish.
    • Follow the recommendations of local, State, and Federal advisories (warnings) on those fish that are safe and how much fish you should eat.
  2. Cleaning your catch

    • Other pollutants, such as pesticides can be found in the skin, fat and organs of fish and may cause health problems if eaten. To reduce your health risks from these pollutants, inform a parent or group leader to:
      • Always remove the skin before cooking.
      • Cut away fatty areas. The belly, the top of the back, and the dark meat along the sides are the most common places where fat is stored.
      • Remove the head, tail, and all internal organs before cooking.
  3. Cooking your catch

    • Inform a parent or group leader to always grill or broil fish so fat can drip away. By letting the fat drip away, you remove pollutants stored in the fat.
    • Don’t fry. Frying seals pollutants in the muscle tissue, which is the part you eat.
  4. Find out if the water in your favorite fishing spot is polluted

    • Look for warning signs posted along the edge of the water and follow the instructions. Also check for advisory information in your fishing regulations booklet.
    • Call your local or state health, or environmental protection department and ask about the waters where you are planning to fish. Find out if it is OK to eat the fish you catch.
  5. Choose the right fish
    • Choose to eat smaller fish. They usually have fewer pollutants than bigger, older fish.
    • Choose lean fish such as bluegill and fish that live in cold water streams and rivers, like brook trout and brown trout.


Write a report about the fish advisories for two water bodies closest to your school or house. Find out what types of fish are included in the advisories, the size limits, and the suggested amounts of fish to eat. Then, share your report with your friends, families, and teachers.

Get an adult to help you talk to your school or youth group about eating the fish you catch. Give examples of the kinds of fish that should be eaten and, with the help of an adult, show the right way to clean and cook fish to reduce pollutants. You will need the following material for your demonstration: fish from local waters (if available), fish advisories for waters in your area, a sharp knife, and a flat surface to work on.

List some fish found in local waters below.


To find fish advisories for your neighborhood, visit www.epa.gov/waterscience/fish. Click on "Where You Live" and then click on your State on the map.

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