Public Urged to Limit
Meals of Certain Freshwater Fish
Due to Mercury Contamination
(02/56) TRENTON -The Department of Environmental
Protection and the Department of Health and Senior Services
today issued advisories warning people about unsafe mercury
levels found in 21 species of freshwater fish from water
bodies around the state.
"New Jersey is one of the best states
for enjoying freshwater fishing and our recreational fishing
industry will always be important to New Jersey's economy
and people's lifestyles," said DEP Commissioner Bradley
M. Campbell. "Everyone, particularly pregnant women
and young children, should follow these warnings and limit
their consumption of the freshwater fish listed in the state
It has been more than eight years since
New Jersey last revised its public warnings of unsafe mercury
levels in freshwater fish. The first advisory, issued in
1994, only involved two types of fish with relatively high
mercury levels - largemouth bass and chain pickerel.
In humans, long-term exposure to elevated
levels of mercury can cause adverse health effects, including
neurological damage and other adverse health problems, including
abnormal sensations of the skin.
Mercury poses special health risks to pregnant
women, women who will become pregnant within a year, nursing
mothers, unborn children, and children under age 5. Mercury
above certain levels can damage the nervous system of developing
"Fish represents an important source
of protein, minerals and vitamins," said Health and
Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. "New
Jerseyans should learn about and follow these health advisories
to ensure that they are protecting themselves and their
families before eating any freshwater fish they catch."
The environmental protection and health
departments issued these new advisories based on a report
finished in 1999. Agency scientists, along with The Academy
of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, conducted an extensive
study of freshwater fish from 76 water bodies. Based on
their findings, the departments determined that 74 water
bodies contain at least one fish species with unsafe levels
of mercury for either the general or high-risk population.
A major source of mercury, a toxic metal,
is emissions from coal-burning power plants in the Midwest
that are carried through the air and deposited onto the
ground and into water bodies in the Northeast.
"Today's advisories cover some of
New Jersey's most popular freshwater game fish species,"
Campbell added. "Our warnings are targeted specifically
at those people who fish our freshwater streams, lakes,
rivers and reservoirs not just for enjoyment - but also
to put food on the table.''
Most of the advisories are based on three
factors: the type of freshwater fish, the water body where
they are caught and the person consuming the fish. For example,
consumption advisories for pregnant women, women who will
become pregnant within a year, nursing mothers, unborn children,
and children under age 5 are the most restrictive because
they face the greatest health risks.
Some advisories are not water-body-specific
but apply to certain fish caught anywhere in the state or
a particular region. Because highly elevated mercury levels
were consistently found in certain fish, DEP has taken the
protective approach of establishing warnings for those species,
even from waters not tested.
The study shows that mercury-contamination
levels in freshwater fish were significantly higher in the
acidic Pinelands waters in southern New Jersey as compared
to the same fish species from non-Pinelands water bodies.
Statewide and regional Pinelands-area advisories
were issued for largemouth bass, chain pickerel, smallmouth
bass, sunfish, yellow bullhead and brown bullhead.
The new advisories include largemouth bass
and chain pickerel and 19 additional fish species: smallmouth
bass, walleye, lake trout, northern pike, muskellunge, hybrid
striped bass, rock bass, white perch, yellow perch, black
crappie, bluegill sunfish, redbreast sunfish, pumpkinseed
fish, mud sunfish, brown bullhead, yellow bullhead, channel
catfish, white catfish and common carp.
The consumption advisories range from "no
restrictions" to "do not eat" for the general
population and high-risk population - but also include intermediate
consumption frequencies such as "eat once per week"
and "eat once per month" - depending on the fish
species and the region or water body.
The Department of Environmental Protection
is launching an expanded public education and outreach campaign
to better inform anglers and the general public about risks
associated with eating fish taken from waters around the
state. These efforts will involve:
- Making updated information readily accessible
on the Internet effective immediately. The department's
web address is www.state.nj.us/dep.
- Requiring all locations that issue state-fishing
licenses to provide, along with the license, the state's
new comprehensive, easy-to-use booklet of fishing advisories,
which the department currently is developing. It will
contain all state advisories, including information about
mercury, dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in
marine, estuarine and freshwater fish and other seafood
such as blue claw crabs in the Newark Bay region.
About 200,000 freshwater licenses are sold in New Jersey
- Publishing information in the New Jersey
Fish & Wildlife Digest, which is published three times
per year in editions devoted to freshwater fishing, marine
fishing, and hunting. It is available free of charge at
locations where licenses, bait and fishing equipment is
- Providing information to anglers' organizations
and their members, environmental commissions and county
and local health departments.
- Providing health information through
the medical community, including doctors' offices, county
and local health offices, clinics and, especially, medical
offices that treat pregnant women or women of childbearing
age. This effort will be coordinated with the Department
of Health and Senior Services.
- Sending e-mails to anglers who have
signed up to receive information through the Internet
from the DEP's
Division of Fish & Wildlife.
Mercury enters the food chain through aquatic
organisms that are eaten by small fish. As larger fish eat
those mercury-contaminated small fish, and so forth up the
food chain, the mercury contamination becomes more and more
concentrated and, ultimately, potentially dangerous to people.
Although the new data shows elevated levels
of mercury in certain fish from the 50 water bodies studied,
the quality of the waters used for drinking, washing and
swimming is not affected.