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Feature Article Fresh Seafood from the Oregon Coast: What Is Safest to Eat?

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By Yolanda Suarez, DO, Samaritan Health Center - Newport

Local residents enjoy easy access to the beautiful Pacific Ocean and its wealth of fresh seafood. There are benefits that come from eating fish – improved cholesterol, decreased inflammation, better blood pressure. Yet, there can also be risks of fish consumption in regard to mercury and other pollutants in fish. So what do we do?

Generally, fish and shellfish are excellent sources of protein as well as essential nutrients and fatty acids that are good for us and for a developing fetus. However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain trace amounts of the toxin mercury, which can build up in our bodies and create memory, behavioral and other problems.

For seafood lovers, it’s all about knowing what types of fish contain the highest to lowest levels of mercury, as well as when and how often it’s safe to eat them.

The concentration of mercury is generally quite low in most fish. However, certain types of marine fish like king mackerel, swordfish, shark and canned white tuna may contain large amounts of mercury. Fish such as pike, walleye and bass, taken from polluted water, may also contain large amounts of mercury.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, fish with 0.3 to 0.49 mg/kg or 0.3 to 0.49 ppm, may be safely consumed up to three times a month. Fish containing >0.5 mg/kg should be avoided. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends a maximum daily exposure of mercury of 0.1 mcg/kg of body weight. Dietary allowances for pregnant and breastfeeding women are lower.

Fish with moderate levels of mercury include bass, carp, Alaskan cod, lobster, mahi mahi and others. The number of servings should be limited to six or less per month.
Those fish lowest in mercury levels include Pacific wild-caught salmon, crabs, clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp, herring, scallops, anchovies and others.

Despite some of the risks, our coastal fish are delicious and hard to resist and as long as you know which to avoid, there is nothing to fear. Bon appetite!

For more information, visit EPA.gov and search using key phrase “safe seafoods.”

Yolanda Suarez, DO, is a family medicine provider at Samaritan Health Center - Newport. She also serves as Palliative Care program director for Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital.