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. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will issue a fish consumption advisory when the amount of contaminants detected in fish exceeds levels of concern. 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 Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) routinely monitors contaminant levels in fish species, and provides fish tissue sample results to VDH for analysis. Advisories do not imply that fish are unsafe to eat, but provide guidance to the public to make informed choices about eating locally caught fish.


Fresh Chigyo fish caught in the morning on bamboo tray with ice

Contaminants such as mercury, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and Kepone can be found in some species of fish. Most fish advisories in Virginia are issued due to detected mercury or PCB contamination of fish tissue. Mercury and PCBs are persistent contaminants that bioaccumulate in fish. Mercury and PCBs can accumulate to harmful levels in the human body over time. It may take months or years of regularly eating contaminated fish to build up to levels in the body that would pose health risks. People who regularly eat recreationally caught fish, women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children are particularly more susceptible to contaminant build-up in the body. For information about mercury, PCBs, and fish consumption advisories, please click on FAQ: Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Mercury Fish Consumption Advisories.


fish_advisory_srA 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, all 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. Yearly fish tissue sampling and analysis is not required since mercury and PCBs are contaminants that remain in fish for long periods of time.

*High-risk individuals such as 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.



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.


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:


•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 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