Pregnant women told to limit fish consumption

Study: All Alaska salmon species are relatively safe to eat

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Alaska health department issued its first guidelines on Monday recommending pregnant women and young children to limit their consumption of certain fish from Alaska waters because of dangerous levels of mercury.

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Salmon was found to have relatively low levels and is not considered a risk.

A study by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation found high enough levels of mercury in five species of fish to trigger the guidelines.

Women who are or who could become pregnant, children under 12 years old and nursing mothers should limit their consumption of large halibut and lingcod, yelloweye rockfish, spiny dogfish and salmon shark to one to two times a week, according to the guidelines. These people also should limit their consumption of store-bought and restaurant halibut, which average 33 pounds, to four times a week.

Fish guidelines

For women who are or can become pregnant, nursing mothers, and children younger than 12:

• One time or less per week: Salmon shark, spiny dogfish, very large lingcod (more than 45 inches long) and very large halibut (more than 90 pounds).

• Two times or less per week: Yelloweye rockfish, large lingcod (40-45 inches) and large halibut (50-90 pounds).

• Four times or less per week: Halibut purchased from stores or restaurants (these average 33 pounds).

Source: Alaska health department

"Too much mercury, a toxic metal found in the environment, can harm the developing nervous system of unborn babies and growing children," said a joint statement from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the conservation department.

The department encouraged all other people, including men, teenage boys and women who cannot become pregnant "to consume as much fish from Alaska waters as they want."

The health department emphasized the benefits of eating fish and said those "far outweigh any potential risk from the small amounts of contaminants found in most Alaska fish."

The study sampled more than 2,300 fish among 23 species of fish sampled from Alaska waters between 2001 and 2006.

All the species contained some level of mercury, but levels in Alaska salmon are very low, the statement said.

The main source of mercury is air emissions from power generation and other industrial and waste disposal activities, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Mercury naturally occurs in coal and is vaporized by coal-fired power plants. Mercury makes its way into waterways, and large fish that eat other fish tend to have higher levels of the heavy metal.

• Amanda Fehd can be contacted at

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