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Eating Fish Is Good for Your Health. Here Are Some Tips on How To Do It Safely if You’re Catching Fish in PA Waters

April 01, 2021 12:00 PM

Pan fried trout with potatoes

With warm weather finally approaching, going fishing is a great way to spend time outdoors. Many people find fishing the perfect escape from their stressful, everyday environments. Fishing can be a way to enjoy nature in solitude or while spending time with friends and family. And if you’re lucky enough, you can pick up a healthy lunch or dinner at the same time. But if you plan to eat the fish that you catch, here are some important things to know so that you can enjoy the health benefits of eating fish while avoiding ingesting high levels of contaminants. 

Health Benefits of Eating Fish

Fish are high in protein, low in fat and contain minerals and vitamins that are beneficial to human health. Fish are high in Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids which are crucial for optimal body and brain function. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week as part of an overall healthy diet. With more than 85,000 miles of streams and rivers plus over 4,000 lakes, Pennsylvania offers anglers across the state ample opportunity to add this flavorful and healthy food to their diets.

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But There’s a Catch

While most recreationally caught sport fish in Pennsylvania are safe to eat, chemicals such as mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) have been found in some fish from certain waters in Pennsylvania. Eating fish that contain chemical pollutants can cause serious health problems if consumed in large amounts. Here’s what you should know to enjoy the health benefits of eating fish while limiting your exposure to possible contaminants.

Fish Consumption Advisories

The Pennsylvania interagency Fish Consumption Advisory Technical Workgroup, of which the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is a member, issues fish consumption advisories to help protect the health of those who consume sport fish caught in Pennsylvania. An advisory is a recommendation to limit or avoid eating certain species of fish caught from specific water bodies due to contamination.

The Technical Workgroup issues two types of advisories: a general statewide advisory and the more specific waterbody, species, or contaminant-based advisory. Each provides recommendations on suggested meal frequency and size to help limit potential exposure to contaminants that might be found in the fish you catch.

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DEP collects fish from specific waters that represent the species and size of fish that are typically caught for consumption. Fish tissue samples are then analyzed by DEP’s Bureau of Laboratories to determine the level of contaminants (metals, PCBs, and pesticide) in each fish sample.

The samples results are reviewed and compiled by DEP staff for evaluation by the interagency Technical Workgroup to determine the appropriate meal advise for each group of contaminants for the particular waterbody and fish species sampled.  

The fish consumption advisories are reevaluated and updated on an annual basis. More information and current advisories can be found here.

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Clean, Cook and Enjoy!

Proper cleaning and cooking techniques may reduce the levels of harmful chemicals that may be present in your fish. DEP’s guide to cleaning and cooking fish provides helpful instructions on how to do this. 

Now that you’ve followed the advisories and cleaned your fish, how about a few recipes to try? DEP’s Fish Consumption Advisory page offers delicious recipes for Perch Skillet, Parmesan Baked Fish and Fish Chowder.

The Fish Are Biting in PA but before you bite into your catch, please consult the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s fish consumption advisory to know how much and which fish can be consumed safely.



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