MDE Issues New Fish Consumption Advisories

Press Release

Maryland Department of the Environment

For More Information:
Richard McIntire

MDE Issues New Fish Consumption Advisories

BALTIMORE, MD (December 13, 2001) – The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) today issued several new advisories concerning the consumption of 13 species of fish recreationally caught in 14 tidal waterbodies throughout the state. These new ‘consumption advisories’ supercede those previously issued by MDE in 1987 and 1999. (Those advisories applied to channel catfish, American eel, carp and black crappie recreationally caught in the Potomac, Back and Patapsco rivers as well as Lake Roland.)

The fish advisories are geared to protect public health, particularly individuals and their families who regularly consume their catch from Maryland tidal waters where unhealthy levels of fish-borne contaminants have been found. Children, and women who are or may become pregnant, are most susceptible to health risks associated with fish-borne contaminants and should take special note of these advisories. Recent changes in the recommended daily consumption estimates used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), combined with new sampling data and improved analytical techniques have resulted in today’s advisories.

The advisories do not prohibit the catching or consumption of any fish species or crabs, either recreationally or commercially and are not intended to discourage the taking or eating of fish or game, but should be used as a guide t​o minimize exposure to contaminants. These advisories are not due to increased contamination in the fish.

Oysters, commercially caught fish or crabs, and no fish or crabs caught in the Chesapeake Bay, are not the subject of these advisories. Detailed information on the specific fish species and waterbodies involved are listed in the associated chart and includes an advisory on consumption of Blue Crabs from a portion of the Patapsco River, and a new statewide advisory for all lakes and impoundments for small and largemouth bass, pike, pickerel, and walleye.

Maryland has six categories of consumption advisories ranging from “No consumption,” to up to eight meals per month, to no restriction at all. A meal is considered to be one-half pound (eight ounces) of fish or six ounces of crab meat for the average 150-pound person, with slightly smaller meal sizes for women and children. People who regularly eat fish, children and women who are or may become pregnant are most susceptible to contaminants that can build up in fish over time. These groups should adjust fish consumption patterns accordingly. Women beyond childbearing years and men face fewer health risks from these contaminants, but also may wish to follow the advisories to minimize health risks.

People who eat these fish and shellfish can decrease exposure to fat-associated contaminants by removing the skin and trimming fat during preparation, and cooking by broiling, baking or grilling to allow oils to be separated from the edible flesh. People who consume crabs should refrain from eating the hepatopancreas, also referred to as the green gland, mustard, or “tomalley.” Mercury exposure cannot be reduced during fish preparation or cooking, as it is directly bound to the edible flesh.

The advisories were deemed necessary because of the persistent and accumulative nature of pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and methylmercury. Even when present in the water in extremely small amounts, some chemicals tend to build up over time in fish tissue because fish can absorb and concentrate contaminants from food they eat, or to a lesser extent, directly from the water. The amount of contaminants that fish accumulate depends on the contaminant in question, as well as the species, size, age, sex, and feeding habits of the fish.

Generally speaking, older larger individual fish accumulate the most contaminants. In addition, catfish, crabs and other bottom feeders with localized home ranges tend to accumulate sediment-associated contaminants such as PCBs, and pesticides, whereas mercury tends to accumulate via the food chain, with the highest mercury levels observed in top-level predators, such as bass and pike.

The Food and Drug Administration sets standards for chemicals in food that is sold commercially, including fish. But, the decision to eat fish that is taken recreationally is not regulated by the government. Instead, the appropriate state government agencies issue advisories. In Maryland, MDE routinely monitors contaminant levels in fish (and shellfish) and issues advisories when contaminant levels exceed recommended federal guidelines. These advisories are issued by MDE, in consultation with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Fish are a still good source of healthy, readily digestible protein and should be part of a healthy diet. They are low in fat and sodium, and the unique type of fats found in fish is believed to provide cardiovascular benefits. More information on the fish consumption advisories can be found on the MDE website at or by calling MDE at (800) 633-6101, extension 3906.