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Mercury occurs naturally in the environment in volcanoes. Mercury in the air can fall into streams and be turned into methylmercury by living organisms in the water.  Fish can absorb small amounts of methylmercury as they feed in these waters.  Some types of fish and shellfish contain more methylmercury than others, depending on their diets and their age.

Experts recommend that women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or nursing consume less of certain types of seafood than recommended for other adults.  If you are a woman of childbearing years and are concerned about how to keep fish in your diet during your pregnancy, consult the FDA/EPA Joint Advisory on Mercury and Fish.

Mercury levels for most fish range from non-detectable to 0.5 parts per million (ppm).  In a few species, mercury levels can reach 1 ppm, the limit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests for fish intended for human consumption.  However, the average concentration in the 10 most popular commercial species is 0.12 ppm or about 8 times lower than the FDA limit.

Published in the November 2005 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, a study from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis shows that the benefits of consuming fish far outweigh the risk calculable from minimal exposure to mercury. 

The study’s risk and benefit analysis found that consumers who eliminate fish from their diet risk a higher incidence of stroke and heart disease.  In addition, the babies of expectant moms who stop consuming fish lose the benefits omega-3s have on brain and nervous system development. Instead, researchers suggested consumers should follow government advice to eat fish weekly, choosing from a variety of fish low in mercury so they can enjoy the health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids without concern about mercury exposure. 

Natl Fisheries Institute (


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