Be Safe When Eating the Fish You Catch

Published on:

There’s no arguing that fish are a healthy addition to your diet. The American Heart Association puts fish at the top of its list of the healthiest and leanest sources of protein. In addition, the Environmental Defense Fund states that a diet rich in fish promotes heart health, brain development and can even alleviate the symptoms of depression. And there is simply no fresher way of obtaining fish than by wresting it from the sea with your own hands. However, catching your own fish also has its dangers.

When are Fish Unsafe to Eat?

When the waste from industrial production infiltrates oceans and other bodies of water, the waters become contaminated and, in turn, so do the fish. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there are five major water contaminants to worry about.

Mercury. Tasteless, odorless and invisible, mercury first contaminates the air before settling into bodies of water. The longer fish are exposed to mercury, the more contaminated they become; therefore, older fish who have been exposed are more contaminated than younger fish who have been.
Dioxin. This is an unintentional but dangerous by-product of making other products, such as bleach.
DDT. Once employed as a powerful insecticide, DDT has been banned from use because of its harmful effects on people and animals. Although it is no longer actively used, its long half-life means it may still be detectable in waters today.
Chlordane. Another insecticide that has since been banned, it continues to contaminate waters to this day.
PCBs. A man-made material used to create electrical equipment and plastics, among others, PCBs (which stands for polychlorinated biphenyls) absorb into water and into the bodies of the fish inhabiting them.

It all sounds a bit scary, doesn’t it? But, before you hang up your rod and reel for good, know that there are measures you can take to protect yourself from eating contaminated fish.

Check for Warning Signs

Your local fishing advisory will set up warning signs at access points to any body of water that isn’t safe to fish from. These warnings range from fully prohibiting eating any fish you catch, to allowing it with guidelines, to allowing it with no restrictions at all. Take these warning signs seriously.

What if There are No Signs?

The lack of signage is not necessarily a free pass to fish. The advisory may not have gotten to it yet or the signs may have been taken or destroyed by weather, vandals, etc. Take the precaution of contacting your local fishing advisory to be sure taking your catch home is safe.

Want to Play it Safe?

If all the signs point to a worry-free day of fishing and carrying your catch home for a good old-fashioned fish fry, but you still want to take precautions, then follow the EPA’s recommendations to clean your fish thoroughly. Contaminates pool in the skin, organs and fat of the fish. Gut your fish immediately after catching and discard the head. Remove the skin and trim away the fat before cooking. Grilling, baking and broiling are the safest ways to prepare fish, as frying will seal any contaminates inside the flesh, according to the EPA. Bear in mind that these precautions are useful against all contaminates EXCEPT mercury.

Fishing is one of the most enjoyable and natural ways to obtain your own food. It speaks to a primal need buried inside us that demands we earn our bread from the fat of the land. As long as you heed these warnings, you can indulge that need as much as you like.

Find more safety tips in our guide to safe ice thickness when ice fishing.

AnglerWise Avatar


Leave a Comment