Is your catch is safe to eat?

Alex Doty • May 7, 2018 at 10:00 AM

State health experts have released a guide to help you decide if your catch of the day is something you can eat, or something to toss back into the water.

The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services’ 2018 regional “Eat Safe Fish Guides” can help residents plan their fish meals to ensure they are minimizing exposure to chemicals that can build up in fish while still getting all of the health benefits eating fish provides.

“The guide essentially provides a nutrition label for chemicals in locally-caught fish,” said the department’s director, Nick Lyon. “The ‘Eat Safe Fish Guides’ are easy to use and important resources that help families in Michigan consume fish safely.”

The department only tests the portions of fish that people eat — typically the filets. The results from state lab tests are used to determine what’s safe for people to consume over the long term.

There are many health benefits to eating fish, and the “Eat Safe Fish Guides” help individuals choose the fish that are best for them and their families.

Michigan Sea Grant educator Dan O’Keefe said there can be risks associated with eating large amounts of fish over an extended period of time, especially from certain bodies of water. This is something he said he takes into account when deciding which fish to consume.

The MDHHS, he said, can be used to guide people in making their own decisions.

“Anglers anywhere in Michigan can use that ‘Eat Safe Fish Guide’ as a way to look at relative risk,” O’Keefe said.

The guide, O’Keefe said, allows anglers to dial in to specific watersheds, lakes, rivers and streams to determine the risks associated with eating certain fish in those bodies of water.

O’Keefe noted that the report does include some surprises, including the fact that the Grand River isn’t as bad as some might assume.

“That’s not saying everything is pristine, but a lot of the times, inland lakes that look pristine are worse than you might have guessed,” he said.

Chemicals in fish are a worldwide problem not limited to Michigan and other Great Lakes states, but it is important to note that fish from some areas in Michigan are more contaminated than others. By using the guides, Michigan fish consumers can be confident that they are making informed choices about eating the fish they catch from their local lake or river, officials say.

The chemicals most commonly found in fish are mercury and PCBs; however, state officials are working to address contamination at sites related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

O’Keefe noted that some general recommendations for consuming safe fish includes selecting smaller fish that are lower on the food chain, fish that aren’t as fatty, and fish that aren’t bottom-feeders.

“Everything we do has risks,” O’Keefe said. “There are lots of things that have risks associated with them. What I like to do is look at the relative risks of eating different fish from different watersheds.”

For more information on how to buy, eat or prepare safe fish, or to view the 2018 “Eat Safe Fish Guide” for your region, visit Michigan.gov/eatsafefish.

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