Begin Main Content Area

Fish Consumption

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Fish Consumption Advisories

News Release

Do Not Eat advisory expanded to all fish species due to high levels of PCB’s found in fish

PCB Levels  

Public Health Advisory - Fish Consumption




Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 2020 Fish Consumption Public Health Advisory

Expand AllClick here for a more accessible version
Health Benefits of Eating Fish

Fish are nutritious and good to eat. They are low in fat, high in protein and provide substantial human health benefits. Fish provide valuable vitamins and minerals and beneficial oils that are low in saturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are also beneficial, particularly in terms of cardiovascular health. Preliminary evidence suggests that early exposure to omega-3 fats may enhance brain development as well. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that consumers eat a balanced diet, choosing a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables, foods that are low in trans fat and saturated fat, as well as foods rich in high fiber grains and nutrients. A diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can be an important part of a balanced healthy diet. The U.S. FDA, EPA, the American Heart Association, and other nutrition experts recommend eating two meals (12 oz) of fish per week. Following these advisories means that you should feel comfortable making one of those meals (up to 8 oz) a recreationally caught Pennsylvania sport fish.

Contaminants in Fish

While most recreationally caught sport fish in Pennsylvania are safe to eat, chemicals such as mercury and PCBs have been found in some fish from certain waters. While the levels of these unavoidable chemical contaminants are usually low, they could potentially be a health concern to pregnant and breast-feeding women, women of childbearing age, children and individuals whose diet consists of a high percentage of fish.

Long lasting contaminants such as PCBs, chlordane, and mercury build up in your body over time. It may take months or years of regularly eating contaminated fish to build up amounts that are a health concern. Health problems that may result from the contaminants found in fish range from small changes in health that are hard to detect to birth defects and cancer. Mothers who eat highly contaminated fish for many years before becoming pregnant may have children who are slower to develop and learn. The meal advice in this advisory is intended to protect children from these potential developmental problems. Adults are less likely to have health problems at the low levels that affect children. Following the advisory over a lifetime, will minimize exposure and reduce health risks associated with contaminants in fish.

Introduction to Fish Consumption Advisories

It is is important to note that the department does not recommend that residents stop eating sport caught fish, except where “Do Not Eat” is shown in the advisory listing. When properly prepared, eating fish regularly offers important health benefits as a good choice to replace high fat foods. These benefits will be gained if the the sport fish consumption advisory is carefully followed to: choose safer places to fish; pick safer species to eat; trim and cook the catch correctly; and follow the recommended meal frequencies. Using this advice, exposure will be reduced to possible contaminants.

Consumption advisories provide guidance to individuals or segments of the population that are at greater risk from exposure to contaminants in fish. Advisories are not regulatory standards, but are recommendations intended to provide additional information of particular interest to high-risk groups. These advisories apply only to recreationally caught sport fish in Pennsylvania, not commercial fish. The federal Food and Drug Administration establishes the legal standards for contaminants in food sold commercially, including fish.

Statewide Advisory

Pennsylvania has issued a general, statewide health advisory for recreationally caught sport fish. That advice is that individuals eat no more than one meal (one-half pound) per week of sport fish caught in the state’s waterways. This general advice was issued to protect against eating large amounts of fish that have not been tested or that may contain unidentified contaminants.

How to Use this Advisory

Follow the general, statewide one meal per week advisory to limit exposure to contaminants. To determine if more protective advice applies to a species of fish, find the locations and species of fish caught in the tables that follow. Find the meal advice for the fish of interest. “Do Not Eat” means no one should eat those fish because of very high contamination. The other groups ("Two meals a Month", "One Meal a Month", "One Meal Every Two Months") are advice for how often to eat a fish meal.

One meal is assumed to be one-half pound of fish (8 oz before cooking) for a 150-pound person. The meal advice is equally protective for larger people who eat larger meals, and smaller people who eat smaller meals.

People who regularly eat sport fish, women of childbearing age, and children are particularly susceptible to contaminants that build up over time. If an individual falls into one of these categories, they should be especially careful to space fish meals out according to the advisory tables that follow. A body can get rid of some contaminants over time. Spacing the meals out helps prevent the contaminants from building up to harmful levels in the body. For example, if the fish you eat is in the "One Meal a Month Group", wait a month before eating another meal of fish from any restricted category.

Women beyond their childbearing years and men generally face fewer health risks from these contaminants. However, it is recommended that you also follow the advisory to reduce your total exposure to contaminants. For these groups, it is the total number of meals that you eat during the year that becomes important and many of those meals can be eaten during a few months of the year. If most of the fish you eat are from the "One Meal a Month" category, you should not exceed 12 meals per year.

Sometimes, anglers catch fish with external growths, sores, or other lesions. Such abnormalities generally result from viral or bacterial infections and may occasionally be caused by exposure to certain chemical contaminants. The appearance of viral or bacterial infections in fish may be unsightly, but there is no evidence to suggest that these infections pose a threat to consumers of these fish. Whether or not to eat such fish is a matter of personal choice.

For Additional Information

The advisory listing in the Fish and Boat Commission’s Summary of Fishing Regulations and Laws was current at the time the summary went to press. Fish consumption advisories may have been issued or lifted since that time. Notice of such actions are released to the public through press releases or as described on this website.

For further information or the most current advice contact:

Dept. of Environmental Protection: 717-787-9637. Questions concerning current advisory listings, waters sampled, sampling methods.

Dept. of Health: 717-787-3550, web site: Questions about effects of chemicals on human health.

Fish and Boat Commission: 814-359-5147, web site: Questions about effects of chemicals on fisheries, current advisory listings, and other related fishing regulations.

Recent Fish Consumption Press Releases

DEP Newsroom (search here for archived information)

Snapping Turtle Advisory

Snapping turtle meat has been found to contain only small amounts of PCB’s and is safe to eat without restrictions. Snapping turtles do retain PCBs in their fat and internal organs. If you choose to eat snapping turtles, you can reduce your exposure by carefully trimming away all fat and internal organs and discarding them before cooking the meat or making soup.

Useful External Links