West Virginia Fish Consumption Advisories

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The West Virginia Sport Fish Consumption Advisory

Questions and Answers on Selected Topics

1. Why is a fish consumption advisory needed?

2. Where can I get advisory information?

3. What about fish from the grocery or restaurants?

4. What contaminants are looked for to determine if a fish advisory is needed?

5. If I eat a fish that is listed at a recommended consumption frequency of one meal per month for mercury, can I also eat a fish that is listed at a recommended consumption frequency of one meal per month for PCBs?

6. Why does West Virginia have a more restrictive guidance on some sport fish?

7. The lake where I fish seems dirty, but the fish have been sampled and there is no advisory. How can the lake seem dirty but the fish not have an advisory?

8. What is the meal portion or serving size used in this advisory?

9. I weigh more than 151 pounds, why can't I eat more than 8 ounces of fish?

10. Will there be changes in this advisory?

11. Do other states have this problem and have advisories?

12. How do I know what the fish look like?

13. Has the lake and river where I like to fish been sampled for contaminated fish?

Advisory Answers

1. Why is a fish consumption advisory needed?

While most West Virginia sport fish are of high quality, low levels of chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury and dioxin have been found in some fish from certain waters. To ensure the continued good health of West Virginians, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources offers an advisory for how often these fish can be safely eaten. An advisory is advice, and should not be viewed as law or regulation. It is intended to help fishermen and their families make educated choices about: where you fish, what types of fish you eat, how to limit the amount and frequency of fish you consume, and how you prepare fish for cooking.
By following these advisories, you can get the health benefits of eating fish and reduce unwanted contaminants.

2. Where can I get advisory information?

Advisory information is included in the DNR 2005 fishing regulations which can be obtained at DNR offices or any location that issues fishing licenses. Note that new advisories may be issued after the regulations are printed as more data become available.

Contact the following state agencies or visit their websites:

A detailed technical document, the West Virginia Sport Fish Consumption Advisory Guide details the method for calculating the meal consumption limits upon which the advisories are issued.

The national repository for state consumption advisories may be found at http://www.epa.gov/ost/fish/

3. What about fish from the grocery or restaurants?

This advisory covers only sport fish caught in West Virginia. Safety regulations and advisories for fish in the market place are the responsibility of the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most kinds of fish on the market are safe and the FDA encourages consumption of up to 12 ounces of fish per week.
The FDA and USEPA recently issued a joint advisory for women of childbearing age and children. They recommend that women of childbearing age and children limit their intake of fish, including store bought fish and tuna, to 2 to 3 meals per week (12 oz. of fish per week for an adult woman). For more information about that advisory, see www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/news/2004/NEW01038.html.

Based upon national advisory information issued by FDA, the following species of fish could pose health problems for some individuals. Avoid these kinds of fish if you are concerned about your exposure to chemical contaminants:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish (also called golden snapper or golden bass)

4. What contaminants are looked for to determine if a fish advisory is needed?

Historically, West Virginia fish samples have been analyzed for a variety of contaminants. The most recent statewide survey looked for mercury and PCBs in fish tissue.  Except in a few special cases given on the advisory list, mercury and PCBs are responsible for the advisories issued for West Virginia Sport Fish.

5. If I eat a fish that is listed at a recommended consumption frequency of one meal per month for mercury, can I also eat a fish that is listed at a recommended consumption frequency of one meal per month for PCBs?

Yes. PCBs and mercury affect different body processes, it is considered safe to eat a fish that has an advisory due to mercury and another fish that has an advisory due to PCBs, even if they have the same meal frequency suggested. However, most of the advisories involve multiple contaminants and you may be eating more of a contaminant than would be safe. You should carefully weigh this option.

6. Why does West Virginia have a more restrictive guidance on some sport fish?

Fish taken from rivers, streams lakes and reservoirs throughout West Virginia often have small amounts of chemical contaminants.  Biological and Chemical processes that affect a fish's uptake of a particular contaminant can vary from astream to stream or from fish species to fishs pecies. Data from a variety of waters and fish species are reviewed and incorporated into the advisories. Data Collected from lakes and rivers in West Virginia show that a statewide advisory is appropriate. For more information about locations and fish that have been sampled, see www.wvdhhr.org/fish.

7. The lake where I fish seems dirty, but the fish have been sampled and there is no advisory. How can the lake seem dirty but the fish not have an advisory?

West Virginia evaluates fish tissue contaminants to decide whether or not to issue a fish consumption advisory. You cannot see, smell, or taste these fish contaminants at levels that can affect your health. Therefore, a lake can look dirty, yet the fish in it can be uncontaminated. Conversely, a lake can look clean and the fish can be contaminated and require an advisory. Some things that cause a lake to seem dirty, such as sediment that makes the water look muddy, or bacteria and algae (microscopic plants) that can produce an odor, do not contaminate fish tissue. Therefore, you cannot tell if there should be a fish advisory by whether the lake looks or smells "dirty".

8. What is the meal portion or serving size used in this advisory?

The size of the fish meal depends on your body weight. To adjust serving sizes, follow the advice in the meal size table. Please note that consumption advice is given in terms of meals for a given period such as a meal a week. Unless otherwise specified, an eight-ounce meal size is the standard amount allowed for an "average" adult. The average adult weighs approximately 150 pounds (equivalent to 70 kg). Because you and your family members may weigh more or less than the average adult, you can use the following table as a general guide to adjust serving sizes to body weight.

Meal Sizes

A person weighing between

Should eat no more than this amount per meal

pounds

ounces of precooked fish

20 or less

1.0

21-35

1.5

36-50

2.0

51-70

3.0

71-90

4.0

91-110

5.0

111-130

6.0

131-150

7.0

151 and over

8.0

Remember that 3.0 ounces of precooked fish is about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards

Remember that 1.5 ounces of precooked fish is about one-half the size of the palm of your hand or one-half of a deck of cards

9. I weigh more than 151 pounds, why can't I eat more than 8 ounces of fish?

Technically if you weigh significantly more than 151 pounds, you could safely eat a fish meal larger than 8 ounces. However, a healthy diet includes restricting calorie intake to reasonable levels. Therefore, meals consisting of more than 8 ounces of protein are not encouraged.

10. Will there be changes in this advisory?

Changes in the current advisory may occur as new information becomes available. Should any information change, the advisory will be updated accordingly. The most up to date information will be on the WVDHHR website.

This website is a collaborative effort of West Virginia's Bureau for Public Health, Division of Natural Resources, and Department of Environmental Protection and is maintained by the Office of Environmental Health Services. For questions regarding the site's content, please contact these offices. For questions or problems related to the website in general, please e-mail the webmaster.

11. Do other states have this problem and have advisories?

Yes. Advisories of some type are in place in Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Many of these advisories are due to PCBs, mercury and dioxin.

12. How do I know what the fish look like?

The fishing regulations issued by the Division of Natural Resources have a chart of common West Virginia game fish or check the DNR website at http://www.wvdnr.gov/fishing/sport_fish.asp. Regulations are also available from the Division of Natural Resources' district offices and from license agents across the state.

13. Has the lake or river where I like to fish been sampled for contaminated fish?

To see if the place you fish has been sampled look at the DHHR website at www.wvdhhr.org/fish. Since not all waterbodies have been sampled, it is recommended that the general advisory information be followed.