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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
Preparation and Cooking Methods for Fish and Crabs under Advisory

The best way to reduce exposure to contaminants in fish is to learn what fish species are affected and either limit or avoid consumption. However, if you must eat those species under advisories, there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure. Contaminants tend to concentrate in the fatty tissue of the fish you catch. Proper cleaning and cooking techniques, which remove some of the fat from the fish, can significantly reduce levels of PCBs, dioxins and other organic chemicals. Please note, however, that these techniques will not reduce or remove unsafe levels of mercury from these fish. Mercury occurs in the flesh. There is no way to remove mercury through cooking. The best way to reduce mercury exposure is to select those species of fish which are known to have lower levels of mercury.

Fish Preparation Methods

Proper fish cleaning and cooking techniques may reduce PCB levels by approximately 50 percent when compared to raw fish fillets. A meal size is considered to be an uncooked 8 ounce fillet. Eat only the fillet portions. Do not eat whole fish or steak portions.

The following diagram illustrates those body portions. Many chemical contaminants, like PCBs and pesticides (but not mercury), are stored in the fatty portions of fish. To reduce the levels of these chemicals, skin the fish and trim any of the dark meat (lateral line), back strap and belly flap.

Do not eat the heads, guts or liver, because PCBs usually concentrate in those body parts. Also, avoid consumption of any reproductive parts such as eggs or roe.

Fish Cooking Methods

Use a cooking method such as baking, broiling, frying, grilling, or steaming that allows the fats and juices to drain away from the fish. When possible, cook the fish on an elevated rack that allows fats and juices to drain to the pan below.

Avoid batter, breading or coatings that can hold in the juices that may contain contaminants. The juices should be thrown away since they contain the PCBs and other chemicals that were in the fat. Do not pour these juices over the fish as a sauce or to moisten the fish. Butter, margarine or other liquids can be added to the fish for this purpose once the juices have been poured off.

After cooking, discard all liquids and frying oils. Do not reuse.

Do not use heads, skin, trimmed fatty portions in soups, stews, chowders, boils, broth or for fish stock. If you make stews or chowders, only use skinless fillet parts.

Raw fish may be infested by parasites. Cook fish thoroughly to destroy the parasites. This also helps to reduce the level of many chemical contaminants.

Crab Preparation Methods

Eating, selling or taking (harvesting) blue crabs from Newark Bay Complex and the tidal Passaic River is prohibited. The Newark Bay Complex is located in northeastern New Jersey. It includes the Newark Bay, tidal Hackensack River, Arthur Kill, Kill Van Kull and tidal tributaries. (See chart on page 8.) If blue crabs are taken from water bodies other than the Passaic River/Newark Bay Complex, the following preparation techniques can be followed to reduce exposure to some contaminants.

The highest levels of chemical contaminants are found in the hepatopancreas, commonly known as the tomalley or green gland. It is the yellowish green gland under the gills. This material is found next to the lump meat (backfin) portion of the crab. Chill and break the crabs immediately before cooking. Care must be taken to remove all of the hepatopancreas before cooking.

There is no specific cooking method available to reduce the chemical contaminant levels in blue crabs. The following steps for proper preparation is key to reducing your exposure to harmful chemical contaminants.

  • Do not eat the green gland (hepatopancreas).
  • Remove green gland (hepatopancreas) before cooking.
  • After cooking, discard the cooking water.
  • Do not use cooking water or green gland (hepatopancreas) in any juices, sauces, bisques or soups.
Office of Science
Dr. Gary A. Buchanan, Manager

Mailing Address:
Mail code 428-01, P.O. Box 420
P.O. Box 420
Trenton, NJ 0862
Office Location:
428 East State St., 1st floor
Trenton, NJ 08625
Phone: (609) 984-6070
Fax: (609) 292-7340

For Information regarding this site, please contact Terri Tucker.

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Copyright State of New Jersey, 1996-2009
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: November 1, 2010