Mercury Levels in Seafood

Eat more fish, it’s good for your heart. Limit fish intake, due to risk of mercury poisoning. Sound confusing? It’s almost enough to make you hang up your fishing pole and go to KFC. Fortunately, the FDA keeps track of mercury levels in common varieties of fish, so it’s easy to tell what is safe to eat. The chart below is for commercial fish and seafood. If you like to fish locally, you’ll need to contact your local EPA for additional safety information.

Tips from the FDA:

  • Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of methylmercury because they’ve had more time to accumulate it.
  • Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
  • Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
  • Another commonly eaten fish, albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
  • Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don’t consume any other fish during that week.
  • Tuna steak generally contains higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak per week.
  • One week’s consumption of fish does not change the level of methylmercury in the body much at all. If you eat a lot of fish one week, you can cut back for the next week or two. Just make sure you average the recommended amount per week.
  • Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your young child, but serve smaller portions.
Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish
Table 1. Fish and Shellfish With Highest Levels of Mercury
SPECIES MERCURY CONCENTRATION (PPM)
MEAN MEDIAN MIN MAX
MACKEREL KING 0.73 NA 0.23 1.67
SHARK 0.99 0.83 ND 4.54
SWORDFISH 0.97 0.86 0.10 3.22
TILEFISH (Gulf of Mexico) 1.45 NA 0.65 3.73
Table 2. Fish and Shellfish With Lower Levels of Mercury
SPECIES MERCURY CONCENTRATION (PPM)
MEAN MEDIAN MIN MAX
ANCHOVIES 0.04 NA ND 0.34
BUTTERFISH 0.06 NA ND 0.36
CATFISH 0.05 ND ND 0.31
CLAMS ND ND ND ND
COD 0.11 0.10 ND 0.42
CRAB 3 0.06 ND ND 0.61
CRAWFISH 0.03 0.03 ND 0.05
CROAKER (Atlantic) 0.05 0.05 0.01 0.10
FLATFISH 2 0.05 0.04 ND 0.18
HADDOCK 0.03 0.04 ND 0.04
HAKE 0.01 ND ND 0.05
HERRING 0.04 NA ND 0.14
JACKSMELT 0.11 0.06 0.04 0.50
LOBSTER (Spiny) 0.09 0.14 ND 0.27
MACKEREL ATLANTIC (N. Atlantic) 0.05 NA 0.02 0.16
MACKEREL CHUB (Pacific) 0.09 NA 0.03 0.19
MULLET 0.05 NA ND 0.13
OYSTERS ND ND ND 0.25
PERCH OCEAN ND ND ND 0.03
PICKEREL ND ND ND 0.06
POLLOCK 0.06 ND ND 0.78
SALMON (Canned) ND ND ND ND
SALMON (Fresh/Frozen) 0.01 ND ND 0.19
SARDINE 0.02 0.01 ND 0.04
SCALLOPS 0.05 NA ND 0.22
SHAD (American) 0.07 NA ND 0.22
SHRIMP ND ND ND 0.05
SQUID 0.07 NA ND 0.40
TILAPIA 0.01 ND ND 0.07
TROUT (Freshwater) 0.03 0.02 ND 0.13
TUNA (Canned, Light) 0.12 0.08 ND 0.85
WHITEFISH 0.07 0.05 ND 0.31
WHITING ND ND ND ND
Table 3. Mercury Levels of Other Fish and Shellfish
SPECIES MERCURY CONCENTRATION (PPM)
MEAN MEDIAN MIN MAX
BASS (Saltwater) 1 0.27 0.15 0.06 0.96
BLUEFISH 0.31 0.30 0.14 0.63
BUFFALOFISH 0.19 0.14 0.05 0.43
CARP 0.14 0.14 0.01 0.27
CROAKER WHITE (Pacific) 0.29 0.28 0.18 0.41
GROUPER 0.55 0.44 0.07 1.21
HALIBUT 0.26 0.20 ND 1.52
LOBSTER (Northern/American) 0.31 NA 0.05 1.31
MACKEREL SPANISH (Gulf of Mexico) 0.45 NA 0.07 1.56
MACKEREL SPANISH (S. Atlantic) 0.18 NA 0.05 0.73
MARLIN 0.49 0.39 0.10 0.92
MONKFISH 0.18 NA 0.02 1.02
ORANGE ROUGHY 0.54 0.56 0.30 0.80
PERCH (Freshwater) 0.14 0.15 ND 0.31
SABLEFISH 0.22 NA ND 0.70
SCORPIONFISH 0.29 NA 0.02 1.35
SHEEPSHEAD 0.13 NA 0.02 0.63
SKATE 0.14 NA 0.04 0.36
SNAPPER 0.19 0.12 ND 1.37
TILEFISH (Atlantic) 0.15 0.10 0.06 0.53
TUNA (Canned, Albacore) 0.35 0.34 ND 0.85
TUNA (Fresh/Frozen) 0.38 0.30 ND 1.30
WEAKFISH (Sea Trout) 0.25 0.16 ND 0.74

Source of data: FDA Surveys 1990-2003
“National Marine Fisheries Service Survey of Trace Elements in the Fishery Resource” Report 1978
“The Occurrence of Mercury in the Fishery Resources of the Gulf of Mexico” Report 2000

Market share calculation based on 2001 National Marine Fisheries Service published landings data
* Mercury was measured as Total Mercury and/or Methylmercury

ND – mercury concentration below the Level of Detection (LOD=0.01ppm)
NA – data not available
1 Includes: Sea bass/ Striped Bass/ Rockfish
2 Includes: Flounder, Plaice, Sole
3 Includes: Blue, King, Snow

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