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Eating Locally Caught Fish? New Report Gives Warnings

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Fishing off Santa Monica Pier | Photo by wolfsavard via Flickr

Fishing off Santa Monica Pier | Photo by wolfsavard via Flickr
The state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) this month released its health advisory and safe eating guidelines for fish caught from coastal areas from Ventura Harbor south to the Dana Point area. "The results do not bode well for those that regularly eat locally caught coastal fish," wrote Mark Gold, President of Heal the Bay.

DDT, PCB and mercury contaminant in the local waters have found their way into a variety of fish including California halibut, Pacific chub mackerel, white croaker, black croaker, barracuda, barred sand bass and topsmelt. Now, that doesn't mean these fish should be avoided, but levels of consumptions depending on your age and sex may be affected.

However, this warning has Gold thinking that something is, for lack for a better word, fishy:

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OEHHA gave some strange advice on how to enjoy eating fish in a safe manner. Its consumption advice is based on contaminant levels in skin-off filets. That means that the risk to fish consumers is even higher if they eat whole fish or fish with skin. The reason why eating whole fish is a bigger risk is because DDT and PCBs concentrate in fat and organs such that whole fish have three to 12 times more contaminants than fish filets. So if you want to eat contaminated fish more safely, call over your surgeon friends or start honing ginzu knife skills on topsmelt. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure that no one is going to filet tiny contaminated fish to reduce carcinogen intake. The reality is that Asian and Pacific Islander fish consumers prepare fish by gutting it, cooking it, and eating it whole.

Another piece of sage advice offered by OEHHA is to keep eating lots of fish because of the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. Consumption of fish is good for the heart and for brain development. Don’t let those pesky carcinogens and neurotoxins (mercury) get in the way of good dietary practices, they seem to urge. This advice ignores our right to consume fish that is good for us and is NOT contaminated with anthropogenic toxins. The recommendations from OEHHA, although extremely scary, are definitely fishy in their underestimating of the health risks to substantial sensitive populations.