Fish Consumption Advisories

Fusiliers in the tropical waters of the Red Sea

Fish consumption advisories help Virginia anglers make educated choices about eating the fish they catch. While most Virginia waters do not have dangerous levels of contaminants, some fish in certain waters are found to contain contaminants at levels of concern. The Department of Environmental Quality – Water Monitoring and Assessment, Fish Tissue and Sediment Contaminants Monitoring Program conducts routine studies of fish tissue and sediment samples in state waters.  More information about this program can be found here. VDH uses this fish tissue sampling data to update and create new advisories as needed when the contaminants in fish exceed levels of concerns.  Advisories provide guidance to the public to make informed choices about eating locally caught fish.

CONTAMINANTS IN FISH

Fresh Chigyo fish caught in the morning on bamboo tray with iceContaminants such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and Kepone can be found in some species of fish in Virginia waterways. These contaminants can enter waterways in a variety of ways, including illegal dumping or accidental release.  Mercury can enter waterways through atmospheric deposition from sources very far away.  Fish and shellfish are also known to be a dietary sources of organic arsenic.  The amount of organic arsenic found in fish and shellfish is usually 90 % of the total arsenic, and is known to have low toxicity for humans. Therefore, fish consumption advisories due to arsenic in fish are very rare.

Most of the fish consumption advisories in Virginia are for mercury and PCBs.  When these contaminants are present in waterbodies they are known to bioaccumulate, which means that they can accumulate in fish tissues over time.  Furthermore, they can biomagnify, which means that the concentration of the chemicals found in fish tissues will increase as they move up the food chain.  For this reason, older, larger fish, and carnivorous fish tend to be the ones that have advisories.  For information about the health effects associated with consuming mercury and PCBs, please click on FAQ: Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Mercury Fish Consumption Advisories. 

CURRENT FISH CONSUMPTION ADVISORIES

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A fish consumption advisory is not a prohibition of eating fish, but a warning about the contaminants present in a fish species. Each advisory specifies the location of contamination within the waterbody, the affected localities, the contaminants present, the species of fish involved, and meal recommendations on eating certain fish species caught from specified waterbodies. The meal recommendations presented in the fish advisory tables were developed to protect the general public from adverse health effects from exposure to fish contaminants. It is recommended to follow the guidance presented on advisories to reduce your total exposure to fish contaminants.*Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children are advised not to eat any fish contaminated either with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or mercury from the respective advisory areas.

Click here to use our new, interactive map of Virginia’s fish consumption advisories.  Scroll in to your area of interest and click on the highlighted body of water for details about VDH’s advisories for affected waterbodies.  You can also use the “my location feature” on the left side of the page to zoom to your current location.

 

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Virginia’s fish consumption advisories are reviewed annually.
Click on a link below to view the current fish consumption advisory for a specified river basin:

Chesapeake Bay  Chesapeake Bay and Small Coastal Basin (includes Great Wicomico, Piankatank, Poquoson, Lynnhaven, Pocomoke Rivers; Dragon Run Swamp; and Mobjack Bay)

Chowan Chowan and Dismal Swamp River Basin (includes Nottoway, Meherrin, and Blackwater Rivers; Lake Drummond)

James River James River Basin (includes Maury, Jackson, Slate, Rivanna, Tye, Rockfish, Willis, Appomattox, Chickahominy, Pagan, Nansemond, and Elizabeth Rivers)

New River New River Basin (includes Little and Bluestone Rivers; Walker, Peak, and Reed Creeks; Claytor Lake)

Potomac River Potomac River Basin (includes Occoquan River)

Rappahannock Rappahannock River Basin (includes Hazel, Thornton, Rapidan, Robinson, and Corrotoman Rivers; and Mountain Run)

Roanoke River Roanoke and Yadkin River Basin (includes Little Otter, Big Otter, Pigg, Dan, Smith, and Banister Rivers; Smith Mountain, Leesville Lakes; Lake Gaston; Kerr Reservoir; and Lovills Creek Lake)

Shenandoah Shenandoah River Basin (includes South, North, South Fork Shenandoah, and North Fork Shenandoah Rivers)

Tennessee Tennessee and Big Sandy River Basin (includes Holston, Clinch, Powell, and Guest Rivers; Levisa, Russell, and Tug Forks)

York York River Basin (includes Pamunkey, Mattaponi, North Anna, South Anna, Little, Matta, Po, and Ni Rivers)

 

HEALTH BENEFITS OF EATING FISHhuman body anatomy, vector medical organs system,

Fish provide substantial human health benefits. They are low in saturated fat, high in protein, and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish contain vitamin D, calcium, iron, magnesium, as well as other nutrients that are beneficial for human health.  Fish consumption has been linked to a decreased risk of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. Fish consumption may also contribute to immune system strengthening, healthy brain functioning, and proper infant growth and development. To achieve the health benefits of eating fish, it is advised to eat a variety of fish and shellfish that are low in mercury such as salmon, tilapia, shrimp, oysters, scallops, and sardines.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COOKING AND PREPARING FISH

You can reduce the fat and contaminants (e.g. pesticides, PCBs) in the fish you eat. To reduce the potential harmful effects from eating contaminated fish, VDH recommends the following:

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•Eat smaller, younger fish. Younger fish are less likely to contain harmful levels of contaminants than older, larger fish.
•Remove the skin, the fat from the belly and top, and the internal organs before cooking the fish.
•Bake, broil, or grill on an open rack to allow fats to drain. Avoid pan frying in butter or animal fat because these methods hold fat juices.
•Discard the fat that cooks out of the fish, and avoid or reduce the amount of fish drippings that are used to flavor the meal.
•Eat less deep fried fish since frying seals contaminants into the fatty tissue.Fresh seabass fish. Isolated on a white background.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

For questions about human health risks from exposure to fish contaminants, please contact the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) at (804) 864-8182. For general questions about fishing regulations in Virginia, please call Game and Inland Fisheries at (804) 367-1000, or visit their webpage by clicking here.  For further information regarding the fish tissue sampling and analysis process, please contact the Department of Environmental Quality at (804) 698-4113, or visit their webpage by clicking here.


Virginia Department of Health | Office of Epidemiology | Division of Public Health Toxicology | 109 Governor Street | Richmond, Virginia 23219 | Phone: (804)864-8182 | Fax: (804)864-8190