2019 Ohio Sport Fish Health and Consumption Advisory

Advice for anyone who eats fish caught in Ohio. 

The Ohio Department of Health advises everyone limit consumption of sport fish caught from all waterbodies in Ohio to one meal per week, unless there is a more or less restrictive advisory.

FISH IS GOOD FOR YOU!
Eat fish low in contaminants.

Fish can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. Fish are generally low in fat and high in protein. Fish contain many vitamins and minerals, and are the primary food source for long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids are important during fetal brain and eye development, and may help to prevent heart disease in adults. Health experts recommend that regular consumption of fish be included as part of a healthy diet

Fish consumption advisories are subject to change based on new data. View the Ohio Sport Fish Consumption Advisory booklet.

In general, use the following table to guide your fish consumption choices:

Overall Fish Consumption Advice
Two meals per week
Yellow perch, sunfish (e.g., bluegill, green, longear, redear)*
One meal per week All fish not specified in this table
One meal per month Flathead catfish 23" and over, northern pike 23" and over, steelhead trout from Lake Erie and its tributaries
Do not eat See the Do Not Eat tab below.
   

*Consumption of these species should be limited to one meal per week from: Ashtabula River, Cuyahoga River, Mahoning River, Nesmith Lake, Ohio Canal, Ohio River, and West Branch Reservoir; and as otherwise indicated in the Ohio Sport Fish Consumption Advisory booklet.

The Ohio Department of Health advises that everyone limit consumption of sport fish caught from all water bodies in Ohio to one meal per week, unless there is a more or less restrictive advisory. View the Ohio Sport Fish Consumption Advisory booklet.

The one meal per week advisory protects sensitive populations, including women of child bearing age and children under age 15. 

Statewide/Nationwide Mercury Advisory for Sensitive Populations

The statewide mercury advisory is primarily for women of child-bearing age and children age 15 and under. They are advised to eat no more than one meal per week of fish (any species) from any Ohio water body unless there is a more or less restrictive advisory. Although the one meal per week advice applies mainly to these sensitive populations, the general advisory recommends that everyone follow that advice.

In 2017, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued advice to help women who are pregnant or may become pregnant – as well as breastfeeding mothers and parents of young children – make informed choices when it comes to store-bought fish and fish served in restaurants (including shellfish) that are healthy and safe to eat.

To help these consumers more easily understand the types of fish to select, the agencies have created an easy-to-use reference chart that sorts 62 types of fish into three categories:

  • Best choices (eat two to three servings a week) – fish in this category make up nearly 90 percent of fish eaten in the United States
  • Good choices (eat one serving a week)
  • Fish to avoid

For this national advisory, a typical adult serving is four ounces of fish, measured before cooking. Serving sizes for children should be smaller and adjusted for their age and total calorie needs. It is recommended that children eat fish once or twice a week, selected from a variety of fish types.

The updated advice cautions parents of young children and certain women to avoid seven types of fish that typically have higher mercury levels:

  • tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico;
  • shark;
  • swordfish;
  • orange roughy;
  • bigeye tuna;
  • marlin; and
  • king mackerel.

Choices lower in mercury include some of the most commonly eaten fish, such as shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod. For details, including a link printable versions of the reference chart and questions and answers in both English and Spanish, visit U.S. EPA's website.

In addition to the advisories below, Ohio EPA advises not eating snapping turtle meat from some locations. Follow the link to see the locations in this advisory. View the Ohio Sport Fish Consumption Advisory booklet.

These fish have high levels of contaminants, and should not be eaten.
PAHs = Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
PCBs = Polychlorinated Biphenyls

Body of Water Area Under Advisory Species Contaminant
Dicks Creek Cincinnati-Dayton Road, Middletown to the Great Miami River (Butler County) All Species PCBs
Great Miami River Lowhead Dam at Monument Avenue, Dayton, to Main Street, Moraine Channel Catfish, Common Carp PCBs
Little Scioto River State Route 739, near Marion to Holland Road, near Marion (Marion County) All Species PAHs
Ohio River Pennsylvania Border (East Liverpool) to Belleville Lock (Athens, Belmont, Columbiana, Jefferson, Meigs, Monroe, Washington Counties) Channel Catfish 18" and over PCBs
Tuscarawas River Massillon to State Route 416 (New Philadelphia) (Stark, Tuscarawas Counties) Common Carp PCBs
       

The waters and/or sediments in these areas have high levels of contaminants. It is recommended that a person not swim or wade in these water body sections.

Body of Water

Area Under Advisory

Contaminant

Dicks Creek

River mile 4.1 (1 mile downstream from North Branch Dicks Creek), Middletown to the Great Miami River (Butler County)

PCBs

Little Scioto River

State Route 739, near Marion to Holland Road, near Marion
(Marion County)

PAHs

Mahoning River

NW Bridge Road (Warren) to Pennsylvania State Line
(Mahoning, Trumbull Counties)

PAHs, PCBs

PAHs = Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
PCBs = Polychlorinated Biphenyls 
 

 

 

Trimming and Cooking Fish

illustration of which parts of fish to trim

Fillet the fish.

Remove all skin from fillets or steaks. This allows fat to drain away from the fish during cooking.

Trim off the fatty areas that are shown in black on the drawing. These include the fatty areas found along the belly, back, and both sides of the fillet.

Cook so that the fat drips away. Broil, bake, or grill on a rack, or poach and discard the liquid.

If you deep-fry your catch, discard the oil. Pan frying removes few, if any, contaminants.

If you prepare soups or chowders from fish, be aware that this cooking method holds in juices that contain fat (and contaminants) from the fish. If you are preparing a soup or chowder, you can reduce the amount of contaminants by baking, broiling, grilling or poaching your fish first, then adding the cooked fish to the soup or chowder.

In cooperation with ChooseYourFish.org, we're providing these tasty recipes. Be sure to follow the Ohio Sport Fish Consumption Advisory.

Fish Chowder

Parmesan Baked Fish

Perch Skillet


Get more ideas from chooseyourfish.org

Overview of Ohio's Sport Fish Tissue Monitoring Program

Each year, the new fish contaminant data is evaluated, and advisories are issued or modified annually.

Ohio's current sport fish consumption advisory committee functions under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among Ohio EPA, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and Ohio Department of Health. Technical staff from each agency meet several times a year as needed to coordinate fish advisories and other issues related to fish contaminants.

The methodology used for issuing fish advisories is described in the 1993 Protocol for a Uniform Great Lakes Sport Fish Consumption Advisory and its subsequent addenda. In cases where an advisory decision is needed for constituents not addressed in the protocol, the protocol is used as a framework for developing appropriate thresholds.

The ODH WIC Program is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. WIC helps low-income eligible pregnant and breastfeeding women, women who recently had a baby, and infants and children who are at risk due to inadequate nutrition.

WIC provides: nutrition, education, breastfeeding education and support; supplemental highly nutritious foods; referral to prenatal and pediatric health care; and other maternal and child health and human service program information. The WIC Program has 230 clinics located throughout the State that see approximately 250,000 clients per month.

Ohio's Sport Fish Tissue MonitoringThe fish contaminant monitoring sites are typically selected to coordinate with other water quality monitoring survey sites on an annual basis.

Typically, approximately 250-300 fish tissue samples are collected from Ohio streams each year for contaminant analysis, along with another 100 from inland lakes and Lake Erie. In addition, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) collects fish tissue from the Ohio River annually, which the states use collectively to issue advisories.

Each year, the new fish contaminant data is evaluated, and advisories are issued or modified annually. Advisories are released concurrently when fishing license renewals are required, near the end of February. The advisories are updated on the website, and updated outreach materials are distributed to WIC clinics and to anglers and citizens upon request.

The Ohio Sport Fish Tissue Monitoring Program has accomplished the following objectives over the last 10 years:

  1. Every major watershed in Ohio with at least a 50-square mile drainage area has been sampled at least once.
  2. Ohio has collected and analyzed screening samples from nearly all inland lakes and reservoirs with public access.
  3. Selected Lake Erie species have been collected and analyzed three times.
  4. Ohio has collected and analyzed the Ohio portion of the Ohio River twice.
  5. Ohio has provided fish consumption advisory information to Ohio citizens most in need through the Ohio Department of Health’s Women’s Infant’s and Children’s (WIC) and Help Me Grow (HMG) Programs.

See Ohio EPA's protocols on fish collections, fish advisory development, and fish tissue collection for environmental monitoring for more detailed descriptions of those procedures.

 

What health benefits do I get from eating Ohio sport fish?

There are many benefits to including fish (including both fish and shellfish) in a balanced diet for people of all ages. Fish are high in protein, low in fat, and contain healthy oils called omega-3 fatty acids which are important during fetal development and which help prevent heart disease in adults. For more information on eating fish, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s page on fish recommendations: www.FDA.gov/fishadvice

Additionally, fishing can be a rewarding hobby that brings people closer to nature, provides a source of natural food, and can even help with wildlife conservation. For more information on fishing in Ohio, visit the Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s Fishing Basics page: http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/fishing/fishing-basics.

What is a fish consumption advisory and why is it needed?

A fish consumption advisory is a recommendation to help people eating Ohio-caught fish make educated choices about: where to fish, what types of fish to eat, how to determine the amount and frequency of fish you consume, and how to prepare fish for cooking. 

While most Ohio sport fish are safe to eat, low levels of harmful chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury have been found in some fish from certain Ohio waters. To protect the health of anyone who eats Ohio-caught fish, the Ohio Department of Health offers an advisory for how often these fish can be safely eaten. A consumption advisory is a recommendation meant to protect people eating Ohio-caught fish and should not be viewed as law or regulation. 

Fish consumption advisories are designed to protect the most at-risk (vulnerable) members of the population, especially infants, children, and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant. This will also ensure that people who are less at-risk will be protected.

What contaminants are in Ohio sport fish?

Not all fish are contaminated. Contaminants that are found in some Ohio fish include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, and metals like lead and methyl mercury. The contaminants responsible for most advisories are PCBs and methyl mercury. 

PCBs are man-made oils that were once used to make copying paper and electrical equipment. PCBs break down very slowly in the environment and build up in fish through the food chain. 

Mercury is a metal that occurs in nature. Natural sources of mercury include volcanoes and forest fires, but it can also enter the environment through human activities like coal-burning power plants. Methyl mercury is a mercury compound that builds up in fish through the food chain.

How do methyl mercury and PCBs affect human health?

The levels of methyl mercury and PCBs found in Ohio fish are not known to cause immediate sickness in humans. 

Over time, methyl mercury and PCBs can build up in a person’s body. It may take months or years of regularly eating contaminated fish to build up amounts of contaminants that are a health concern. It takes up to six years for the body to get rid of PCBs, and up to one year to get rid of mercury after a person stops eating contaminated fish. 

Health problems that may result from the contaminants in fish include birth defects (including developmental and physical deficits) in newborns of mothers who eat highly contaminated fish for many years before becoming pregnant. Mercury has been known to cause heart problems in older adults and can cause problems with the brain and nerves.

Who is most at risk of health problems from fish contaminants?

Contaminants in fish can be harmful to people of all ages, but fetuses, infants, and children through age 15 are most at-risk because their bodies and organs are still developing. They are less able to deal with toxic substances than an adult. 

Women who plan to become pregnant, women who are pregnant and nursing mothers should be aware of fish contaminants as it may affect their babies. Women of childbearing age and pregnant or nursing mothers should consult with their doctors on how to make fish a part of their diet.

Why does Ohio have an advisory to only eat one meal of sport fish a week?

Fish taken from rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs throughout Ohio often have small amounts of chemical contaminants. Limiting the number of sport fish meals eaten ensures that the contaminants do not build up in your body to levels that may be harmful. Data collected from lakes and rivers in Ohio show a statewide advisory of one meal per week of most Ohio sport fish is protective.

How much fish is a meal?

For an adult, Ohio recommends that an adult should eat 4 to 6 ounces of cooked fish per meal. Serving sizes for children should be smaller and adjusted for their age and size. Ohio recommends that a child should eat 2 to 3 ounces of cooked fish per meal. For more information on a meal size, see “Serving Size” on page 6. 

Based on mercury contamination, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that one meal (also called a serving) should be 4 ounces for adults. For children 7 years old and younger, the FDA advises that serving sizes for children should be smaller and adjusted for their age and size, about 2 ounces. For more information, visit https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm393070.htm.

Should I stop eating fish?

The Ohio Department of Health is not recommending that you stop eating sport fish EXCEPT where there is a Do Not Eat advisory. Fish with low levels of contaminants are safe to eat, provided the trimming, cooking and meal frequency advice is followed. The maximum recommended frequencies for eating those fish are included in the advisory table.

Is fish from grocery stores and restaurants safe to eat?

Although the Ohio Sport Fish Advisory is mainly focused on sport fish caught in Ohio waters, the Ohio Department of Health encourages adding a wide variety of fish to your diet and understands that even people who fish will often add store- or restaurant-bought fish to their diet. Most kinds of fish on the market, including fish from restaurants and grocery stores, are safe to eat and low in contaminants. For more information on which fish to eat, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s page on fish recommendations: www.FDA.gov/fishadvice

To find food product recalls involving food regulated by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, including recalls on fish and seafood, use the Ohio Department of Health’s Food Recalls search tool: https://odh.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/odh/know-our-programs/food-safety-program/food-recalls.

I ate a serving of fish which the advisory recommends only eating once per month due to PCBs contamination. Can I also eat a serving of a different kind of fish which the advisory recommends eating only once per month due to mercury contamination?

Yes. PCBs and mercury affect different body processes, so it is considered safe to eat a serving fish that has an advisory due to PCBs as well as a serving of fish that has an advisory due to mercury. However, you should not regularly eat two servings of fish in a month if they both have a recommendation to only eat them once per month due to the same contaminant. For example, if you catch a catfish which the advisory recommends only eating once per month due to mercury and you eat one serving of it, then you should not eat another serving of that fish during that month. You should also not eat a serving of any other kind of fish that month that has a once per month advisory due to mercury.

What should I do if I eat more than the recommended amount of fish and shellfish in a week?

Has the lake or stream where I like to fish been sampled for contaminated fish?

All lakes that have fish with higher levels of contaminants are listed in the Ohio Sport Fish Consumption Advisory booklet. If you don't see the public lake where you fish in the booklet, then you may safely consume the fish you catch from the lake according to the general advisory.

What contaminants are looked for to determine if an advisory is needed?

Ohio’s fish samples are analyzed for several contaminants, most importantly mercury and PCBs which are responsible for the majority of fish consumption advisories. Samples are also tested for: 

  • Metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, selenium)
  • Pesticides (aldrin, dieldrin, lindane, DDT and its breakdown products, endrin, endosulfan, heptachlor, methoxychlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, and nonachlor)

The water where I fish seems dirty, but the fish have been sampled and there is no advisory. Why isn’t there an advisory?

You cannot tell if a fish advisory is needed by whether a body of water looks or smells dirty. 

Because the contaminant levels that Ohio EPA looks for when it samples fish are so small, you cannot see, smell, or taste them in the water or fish. A body of water and its fish can look clean but actually be contaminated and require an advisory. 

On the other hand, a body of water can look dirty for reasons other than contaminants like PCBs and mercury. Bacteria and algae (microscopic plants) can cause the water to look discolored, murky, or muddy, or cause a bad odor. Recent heavy rains can stir up sediment and cause water to look cloudy or brown. Even if this is the case, a fish advisory may not be needed.

How else can I reduce my health risk from contaminants in Ohio sport fish?

Choose smaller fish (within the legal size limit). Smaller fish within a species tend to have fewer contaminants than older, larger fish. 

Choose leaner fish. Fish that are higher in fat (channel catfish and carp, for example) will likely have more fat where PCBs and other chemicals build up. Yellow perch, sunfish, and crappies are examples of lean fish. 

Trim and cook your fish properly to reduce your risk. When preparing whole fish, trim off the skin and fat to reduce contaminants. Cook and eat only the fillet. Baking, broiling, or grilling the fish can cook off PCBs, and these methods won’t add extra unhealthy fats as with frying.

Fish for your Health
Ohio EPA's Sport Fish Consumption Advisory helps you choose which, and how much, fish to eat.

Contacts

Request publications:
Ohio Department of Health
(614) 728-9452

Questions?
Contact:
Health Assessment Section, Bureau of Environmental Health and Radiation Protection
Ohio Department of Health
(614) 728-9452
BEH@odh.ohio.gov

Sampling/technical questions contact:
Mariah Hood
mariah.hood@epa.ohio.gov

The Ohio Department of Health, in cooperation with Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, issues sport fish consumption advisories under Ohio law (Ohio Revised Code Chapter 3701).