Press Release

KENT ISLAND, MD (June 10, 2004) – Rockfish caught in the Chesapeake Bay are safe and healthy to eat.

That is the Maryland Department of the Environment’s (MDE) assessment after nearly three years of sampling and laboratory analysis of rockfish caught in the bay and its tributaries.

“This is the most comprehensive sampling of a single species MDE has ever done,” said Kendl P. Philbrick, the secretary of the environment. “For recreational fishermen in Maryland, the result of the testing is good news.”

During 2001, 2002 and 2003, MDE collected over 150 rockfish from six different locations across the bay and its tributaries and examined PCB levels in the fish. Based on the results of the testing, men can eat up to two meals of rockfish a month and women of child-bearing age and children can eat up to one meal a month.

Consumption guidelines are even more liberal for other popular recreational fish caught in the bay and its tributaries: eight meals a month for crabs, flounder and white perch caught along the Eastern Shore south of the Chester River. Fishermen and their families can eat four meals a month of catfish caught along the Eastern Shore south of the Chester.

“We know that a healthy diet should include seafood,” Philbrick said. “The data that MDE is publishing today shows that Maryland families can safely include fish in their diets if they follow basic, commonsense precautions.”

For the first time, MDE has published a color-coded guide to consumption of fish caught by recreational fishermen in the bay and its tributaries. The guide distinguishes among safe areas (24 meals or more per year), areas where fish is safe when eaten in moderation (up to 12 meals a year), areas where consumption should be limited (fewer than 12 meals a year) and areas where fish should not be eaten.

The guide is being distributed statewide. MDE is also distributing consumption guides targeted to women and children. One guide is specific to the Patapsco River and the Inner Harbor; the other is statewide.

The department has been providing recreational fishermen and their families with guidance on healthy seafood consumption since the 1980s.

The science: Recommendations regarding PCBs and fish consumption are not a measure of danger to health. Rather, they reflect an assessment of the risk of cancer if fish from the same area are consumed regularly over a period of years. Maryland’s risk assessment assumes an exposure of 30 years and uses a conservative “cancer slope factor,” which reflects the likelihood of cancer. MDE also assumes that the fish is prepared and cooked correctly, resulting in a loss of 30 percent of the PCBs.