A Woman's
G U I D E
To Eating Fish and Seafood
What You Should Know If You Are:

Pregnant
Planning to Be Pregnant
or Have a Young Child

 

Mercury, PCBs, Dioxins and Chlordane:
How Do They Affect Babies and Young Children?

Exposure to low levels of some contaminants in the environment may have long lasting health effects on people. Mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins are among the major contaminants found in some New Jersey fish in portions of the state. Chlordane is a chemical that has been detected in certain fish in at least one area of the state.

You can build up harmful levels of PCBs, mercury, dioxins, and chlordane in your body without being aware of it. These contaminants can especially harm a developing child during pregnancy because the mother can pass them on to the baby.

Above certain levels, mercury can damage the nervous system, particularly in developing children. Low amounts may cause subtle effects on the central nervous system, such as learning deficits.

Your exposure to these contaminants before pregnancy matters, too. Women who may become pregnant should follow the fish consumption advice on this page, since traces of these contaminants may remain in your body for a period of time after ingestion. You can reduce your exposure to contaminants by following the advice given in this brochure. Over time, your body can rid itself of some contaminants.

How Can You Reduce Your Exposure to These Contaminants in Recreationally Caught Fish?

Choose the Type of Fish

  • Eat a variety of fish. Fish with more fatty flesh, such as catfish (excluding farm-raised), bluefish and striped bass, tend to collect more PCBs and chlordane because these contaminants are stored in fat.
  • Eat smaller-sized fish (within state size regulations). Fish build up contaminants from the water they live in and the food they eat. Older or bigger fish tend to build up contaminants in their bodies.

Consider the Source of the Fish

Although mercury can be found in fish species from freshwater rivers, lakes, streams and reservoirs in the state, the highest levels have been found in the Pinelands area covering the southeastern counties of the state. Chain pickerel and largemouth bass are two species found to have high levels in the Pinelands.

High PCB and dioxin levels tend to be found in fish from waterways in the northeastern industrial areas of the state, including the Newark Bay Area and the tidal portions of the rivers that flow into it. Chlordane contamination has been found in the Delaware River in the Camden area.

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Follow Consumption Advice

New Jersey and neighboring states sharing water bodies have tested several species of fish from a variety of lakes, rivers, and reservoirs and, where necessary, have developed consumption advisories. These advisories have been developed for particular fish species in the portion of the water body affected by the contamination. In several instances, fish migratory patterns and feeding habits have resulted in statewide advisories. Some of these advisories are summarized in the following section of this page and on the regional maps. For a listing of specific water bodies affected, we recommend you order a copy of our brochure entitled "A Guide to Health Advisories for Eating Fish and Crabs Caught in New Jersey Waters." To order a copy of this brochure, call (609) 777-3373.

  • If you don't know the safety of the fish in the water body you are fishing, a safer choice may be to release your catch.
  • If you are given recreationally caught fish, ask where it was caught, what species of fish it is and check advisories in guide* to see if a health advisory exists for the fish.
Fish and Crab Advisories
Based on PCBs, Dioxin or Chlordane Contamination*
Advice for infants, children unider the age of 15, pregnant women, nursing mothers and women of childbearing age.
Species Location Advice
American Eel Statewide Do Not Eat
Bluefish (over 6 tbs.) Statewide Do Not Eat
Striped Bass Statewide Do Not Eat
Blue Crab Newark Bay, Passaic River

Hudson River, Raritan Bay

Do Not Eat or Take

Do Not Eat Green Gland

All fish and shellfish Passaic River, Camden Area Do Not Eat
AD Crustaceans (all crabs) Camden Area Do Not Eat
American Lobster Maine to New Jersey Do Not Eat Green Gland
Fish Advisories Based on Mercury Contamination*
Advice for pregnant women, women planning pregnancy within one year, nursing mothers and children under 5 years old.
Species Location Advice
Largemouth Bass and Chain Pickerel Pinelands Area (defined below) Do Not Eat
Largemouth Bass and Chain Pickerel All Other Freshwaters Outside Pinelands** Eat No More than One Meal Per Week
* Refer to "A Guide to Health Advisories for Eating Fish and Crabs Caught in New Jersey Waters" (Guide) for additional, area-specific advice on consuming channel catfish, white catfish and white perch.

** Specific water bodies listed in "Guide" may have more restrictive advice.

Pinelands Area defined as: Much of the seven counties in the southeastern, portion of the state, including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumber", Gloucester and Ocean counties.

Choose How Much Fish You eat and How Often

Some fish in New Jersey waters are not safe for pregnant or nursing women or young children to eat. The consumption advisories are designed to help you understand which fish species to avoid and which species you can eat in limited amounts.

The above chart  summarizes the advisories currently in effect. We strongly recommend that you reference the  above webpage. It lists the consumption amounts, species and the water bodies covered under these advisories.

New Jersey has advisories in place for largemouth bass and chain pickerel due to mercury contamination. In some cases, there are specific advisories for freshwaters that range from "do not eat" to "eat no more than one meat per week." You should consult the above mentioned site-specific advisories.

In general, within the Pinelands area of the state, pregnant or nursing women and young children are advised not to eat any largemouth bass or chain pickerel. The Pinelands area covers much of the seven counties in the southeastern portion of the state, including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Ocean counties.

For all other freshwaters located outside the Pinelands and not specifically mentioned in the webpage referenced above, it is recommended that pregnant and nursing women and young children eat no more than one meal per week of largemouth bass or chain pickerel.

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Preparation and Cooking Guidelines for Fish Under Advisories

You can reduce the level of PCBs, dioxins and chlordane (but not mercury) by properly cleaning, skinning and trimming the species and by following the cooking recommendations below. However, cleaning fish and crabs that you are advised not to eat will not reduce contaminants (see chart on page 3).

Fish and Crab Fish

  • Avoid batter or breading, because they hold in the liquid that may contain contaminants.
  • Bake or broil the fish on an elevated rack that allows fats to drain to the pan below; do not fry in a pan.
  • After cooking, discard all liquids. Do not reuse for soup or sauces.
  • Before cooking, remove and do not eat the organs, head, skin and the dark fatty tissue along the lateral line, backbone and belly.

Blue Crabs

Eating, selling or taking (harvesting) blue crabs from the Newark Bay and the tidal portions of rivers and streams that feed into it is prohibited.

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. If blue crabs are taken from water bodies other than the Newark Bay Complex, the following preparation techniques can be used to reduce exposure to some contaminants:

  • Remove green gland (hepatopancreas) before cooking.
  • Do not eat the green gland (hepatopancreas).
  • Do not use cooking water or green gland (hepatopancreas) in any juices, sauces or soups.
  • After cooking, discard the cooking water.

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What About Store-Bought Fish ?

Fish can contain trace amounts of contaminants. Fish sold in stores and restaurants are no exception. Consumption advice is usually not necessary for many of the popular seafood species, such as flounder, Pollock, cod, salmon, shrimp, clams and scallops, which have relatively low levels of mercury. It is also safe for an expectant mother to eat up to eight ounces of canned tuna each week provided she has not eaten any other fish known to be contaminated with mercury that week. (Please refer to the State advisories for more information about mercury-contaminated fish.)

Based on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) June 1994 report and average mercury levels in shark and swordfish as reported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), women of childbearing age would be advised to eat no more than one eight-ounce portion of shark or swordfish every two months. Children under seven are advised not to eat shark or swordfish at all.

In the case of PCB, dioxin and chlordane contamination, fish with lower fat content contain fewer of these contaminants, while fish with higher fat content, such as bluefish, contain higher levels. These contaminants accumulate in the fatty parts of the fish over time. Large bluefish (over six pounds), for example, have been found to exceed federal standards for PCBs and, therefore, should not be consumed by expectant mothers. It is generally safe, however, to eat most other low-fat commercial fish, such as flounder, Pollock, cod, shrimp, clams, scallops, oysters, mussels and farm-raised fish, such as catfish and salmon, since they have been found to be low in PCBs. A recent regional study of the American lobster has shown elevated levels of PCBs, cadmium and dioxin in the green gland (tomalley hepatopancreas). This finding is consistent with other lobster studies conducted in waters of the northeastern coastal states. Therefore, consumers are advised to remove and not consume the green gland of all American lobsters caught off the coast from Maine to New Jersey, as well as avoid products made from the lobster green gland. This advisory does not apply to other edible portions of the lobster.

How to Continue Enjoying Fish While Protecting Your Baby or Young Child

  • Remember to consider ALL sources of fish you eat when making your choices.
  • Discuss the fish you eat with your health care provider.
  • Carefully choose the fish you eat while you are pregnant or nursing, and prior to pregnancy.
  • Consider making changes in how you eat fish: the kind of fish you eat, the source of the fish, how much you eat, how often and how you prepare them.
  • Avoid fad diets.
  • Eat a variety of fish.

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For comments regarding this site, please contact Terri Tucker.

Last revision: 6/7/00