Fishing provides many benefits, including food and recreational enjoyment. Many anglers keep, cook, and eat their catches. Fish are routinely monitored for contaminants by the Department of Environmental Quality. Sometimes the fish in certain waters are found to contain potentially harmful levels of chemicals. When this happens, the Department of Health issues warnings for the affected bodies of water.
For specific, up-to-date fish consumption advisories, please see the Fish Consumption Advisories section of the Department of Health’s website or call VDH at (804) 864-8182.
Anglers should realize that they may still fish these waters and enjoy excellent recreational fishing. Below is a section on cleaning and cooking your fish, which will help reduce contamination levels in fish you eat.
Cleaning and Cooking Your Fish
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and most other organic contaminants usually build up in a fish’s fat deposits and just underneath the skin. By removing the skin and fat before cooking, you can reduce the levels of these chemicals. Mercury collects in the fish’s muscle and cannot be reduced by cleaning and cooking methods. 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.
- 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.
IMPORTANT: The meal advice included in this information is based on fish that have been skinned, trimmed, and cooked properly.
Also remember that larger and older fish tend to collect more contaminants, and fatty fish (such as channel catfish and carp) tend to collect PCBs and other organic chemicals. Eating smaller, younger fish and avoiding fatty species can help limit your exposure. Your exposure depends not only on the contaminant levels in the fish, but also on the amount of fish you eat.