How to Avoid Mercury in Seafood

By Jonathan Wlasiuk

How to Avoid Mercury in Seafood
View of Sitka Harbor, photo by Kelley Schuyler

Wild Alaska Seafood is Safe from Harmful Contaminants


How to Avoid Mercury in Seafood | Sitka Salmon Shares

HOW DOES MERCURY GET INTO FOOD?


All humans have some exposure to mercury, which is a naturally-occurring element. It is in a range of products like compact fluorescent lightbulbs, dental amalgam fillings, and the food we eat. Industrial activities such as mining and coal-burning power plants can concentrate mercury in the air, water, and soil, where it enters the food chain. Like many toxins, the dose is the difference between sickness and health. Potatoes, for example, contain the toxin solanine, but very few people ingest enough potatoes to produce adverse effects. The risks of mercury poisoning from eating seafood are very small compared to environmental exposure or occupational hazards. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been collecting blood mercury samples for over 20 years and the samples are usually below levels of concern


WHAT SEAFOOD IS LOW IN MERCURY?

Sitka Salmon Shares offers seafood that is naturally low in mercury. Mercury concentration in fish is determined by their age, size, and the health of their environment. Specific Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance for pregnant or nursing mothers and small children is to avoid fish that are high in mercury content, such as tilefish, swordfish, and king mackerel. For most people, the benefits from eating seafood far outweigh any risk associated with mercury content. In fact, there is increasing evidence that eating seafood provides important nutrients and improves the livelihoods of pregnant or nursing mothers and small children.

Alaska environmental health officials actively monitor the safety of the seafood that is harvested in Alaska. Experts sample fish and shellfish and monitor the levels of total mercury  and other possible contaminants. There have been no samples that have exceeded levels of concern. Additionally, Alaska health officials have not found any cases of unsafe mercury exposures resulting from consumption of Alaska fish.

Researchers from Oregon State University’s Seafood Lab found that small, troll-caught albacore tuna from the West Coast of the United States, like those offered by Sitka Salmon Shares, “contain less than half the level of mercury found by a recent government study of brand-name canned albacore.”


WHAT STEPS CAN I TAKE TO LIMIT MY MERCURY EXPOSURE?


Avoid eating species at the top of the food chain, like sharks, and verify the source of the seafood you consume to limit exposure to mercury. Wild seafood from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest is closely monitored by state and federal officials. Mislabeling seafood species and complex supply chains that hide the origin of fish can lead even well-informed consumers to seafood that is high in mercury.

Finally, the best way to limit mercury exposure is for humans to not concentrate it in the environment in the first place. The best way to ensure wild seafood remains a safe and healthy source of protein is to protect wild habitats from industrial development and verify that existing mines, factories, and power plants conform to clean air and clean water regulations.

For species offered by Sitka Salmon Shares, the health benefits far outweigh the risks of exposure to mercury or other harmful contaminants. Selenium, found abundantly in wild seafood, is essential for your immune system and binds to mercury in your body, counteracting its effects. This is one of the reasons why the Food and Drug Administration and the American Heart Association recommend consuming at least two servings of seafood a week.


IS WILD ALASKA SEAFOOD THREATENED BY THE FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI NUCLEAR DISASTER IN JAPAN?

Multiple state, federal, and international organizations have found no evidence that the Fukushima nuclear disaster threatens Alaska seafood. After almost a decade of testing and continuous monitoring, the Alaska Division of Environmental Health has found “no detectable levels of Fukushima-related radionuclides” in Alaska seafood. In fact, with the announcement last year from the Japanese government to release stored radioactive seawater, Alaska has increased radiation testing of harvested seafood from the state. According to Dr. Nicholas Fisher, distinguished professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences of Stony Brook University, the amount of radiation contamination in your a tuna fillet “would be far less than the total radiation you’d get from eating a banana or flying in an airplane.”

Additionally, the FDA has stated that by all measures, Japanese authorities have contained the threat of radioactive contamination and use an advanced decontamination technique under international observation to ensure the safety of the food supply. The World Health Organization has also found there to be no health concerns from fish outside Japan in adjacent water bodies. If a threat to Alaska seafood develops, the FDA and Alaska Division of Environmental Health would be the first to know and report the threat to the public. 

 

WHERE CAN I GET WILD SEAFOOD TRACEABLE TO THE SOURCE?

Sitka Salmon Shares offers subscription and one-time boxes of wild seafood direct from our fishermen and trusted partners. As a proud member of the Local Catch Network, Sitka Salmon Shares is dedicated to building a better seafood system that protects wild habitats, pays fair wages to fishermen and workers, and provides supply chain transparency to consumers.  

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