Fishing in Virginia waters provides many benefits including food and recreational enjoyment. Many fishermen keep, cook, and eat the fish they catch. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) routinely monitors fish from Virginia waters for contaminants and provides fish tissue sample results to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) for analysis. While most Virginia waters do not have dangerous levels of contaminants, sometimes the fish in certain waters are found to contain chemicals at levels of concern.
The meal advisories listed in the tables are based on protecting the general public from adverse health effects of contaminants. A meal is considered to be an eight-ounce (half-pound) serving of fish.
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.
VDH Fish Consumption Advisories
Click on the map above or choose from the river basin list below for current fish consumption advisories in your area.
Chesapeake Bay and Small Coastal Basin (includes Great Wicomico, Piankatank, Poquoson, Lynnhaven, Pocomoke Rivers; Dragon Run Swamp; and Mobjack Bay)
Chowan and Dismal Swamp River Basin (includes Nottoway, Meherrin, and Blackwater Rivers; Lake Drummond)
James River Basin (includes Maury, Jackson, Slate, Rivanna, Tye, Rockfish, Willis, Appomattox, Chickahominy, Pagan, Nansemond, and Elizabeth Rivers)
New River Basin (includes Little and Bluestone Rivers; Walker, Peak, and Reed Creeks; Claytor Lake)
Potomac River Basin (includes Occoquan River)
Rappahannock River Basin (includes Hazel, Thornton, Rapidan, Robinson, and Corrotoman Rivers; and Mountain Run)
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 River Basin (includes South, North, South Fork Shenandoah, and North Fork Shenandoah Rivers)
Tennessee and Big Sandy River Basin (includes Holston, Clinch, Powell, and Guest Rivers; Levisa, Russell, and Tug Forks)
York River Basin (includes Pamunkey, Mattaponi, North Anna, South Anna, Little, Matta, Po, and Ni Rivers
VDH will issue a fish consumption advisory when fish taken from a particular body of water are found to contain potentially harmful levels of contaminants. Some of these contaminants are not excreted from the human body after being consumed, but are stored in body tissue over long periods of time. VDH considers the health effects of eating fish from these waters over long periods of time (chronic effect). A fish consumption advisory is not a prohibition of eating fish, but a warning about the contaminants present and the possible health effects on those who consume these fish. Each advisory specifies the location of contamination within the water body, all affected localities, the contaminants present, the species of fish involved, and the number of meals allowed for the species of fish included in the advisory. For answers to frequently asked questions about fish consumption advisories, please click here.
When a fish consumption restriction is placed on a body of water, anglers may still fish these waters for sport, but are prohibited from taking fish for human consumption. Currently, there are no fish consumption restrictions in Virginia.
VDH recommends the following precautions to reduce any potential harmful effects from eating contaminated fish:
- Eat smaller, younger fish (within legal limits). 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 away from the meat.
- Discard the fats that cook out of the fish and avoid or reduce the amount of fish drippings or broth that are used to flavor the meal.
- Eat less deep fried fish since frying seals contaminants into the fatty tissue.
For general questions about fishing regulations in Virginia, please call Game and Inland Fisheries at (804) 367-1000 or visit their web site at http://www.dgif.state.va.us/fishing/index.cfm.
If you would like to review data from fish tissue analysis on samples taken from Virginia waters, please contact the Department of Environmental Quality at (804) 698-4113 or visit their web site by clicking here.
Virginia Department of Health | Office of Epidemiology | Division of Public Health Toxicology | 109 Governor Street Room 338C | Richmond, Virginia 23219 | Phone: (804)864-8182 | Fax: (804)864-8190