'Fish Smart, Eat Smart' Campaign At South Carolina

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Seafood Safety

South Carolinians who like to fish can go online for updated information to find out if the fish on their line is safe to eat or should be released because of possible contamination.

"DHEC's web site at www.scdhec.gov has a state map with the latest advisories, information and a booklet and other materials that can be downloaded," said David Wilson, chief of DHEC's Bureau of Water. "This information will help our citizens determine whether to keep and eat the fish they catch in South Carolina waters or release them back into the water."

Wilson said fish consumption advisories exist on 62 state water bodies and the Atlantic Ocean because of mercury contamination. Swordfish caught in the Atlantic Ocean off South Carolina's coast have been confirmed with high levels of mercury and should be avoided by pregnant or nursing women and children under age 14. Other adults should limit swordfish meals to one a month.

Consumption advisories suggest safe amounts of fish for meals, with a meal being a half-pound (or 8-ounce) serving of raw fish before cooking, which would be about the size of two decks of cards. People also should check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas. If no advice is available, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advise people can eat up to six ounces (one average meal) per week of cooked fish caught in local waters, but shouldn't consume any other fish during that week.

DHEC warns that pregnant women, women planning to become pregnant, infants and children should not eat any fish containing mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin. Infants and children are particularly sensitive to the effects of mercury since their nervous systems are still forming.

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While a water body might have advisories issued on certain species, other species in the same water body might have no restrictions. Saltwater dolphin (mahi mahi) and Spanish mackerel also have been cleared through testing. King mackerel 33 to 39 inches should not be eaten more than once a month, and King mackerel over 39 inches should be avoided.

"People can still safely eat fish taken from the state's waters if they follow the consumption guidelines for specific species of fish," Wilson said. "The contamination is in the fish and does not make the water unsafe for recreational or drinking uses."

DHEC has tested over 2,000 fish samples for mercury from water bodies throughout the state since the last advisory update in 2006. Consumption advisories because of mercury now are in effect for a total of 42 South Carolina rivers, creeks and streams and 20 lakes. Freshwater fish advisories for inland lakes and rivers have been issued for mercury contamination since 1994. An advisory has also been in effect on Lake Hartwell since 1976 due to PCB contamination.

A naturally occurring metal, mercury can come from air deposition from coal-burning facilities and incinerators. In water, it can be converted to an organic form called methylmercury, which can build up in fish tissue. If eaten in large enough amounts, methylmercury can cause nervous system damage, particularly in infants.

The EPA and FDA advised pregnant women, women who might become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that have higher concentrations of mercury. Fish to avoid include shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Fish and shellfish, however, are an important part of a healthy diet for everyone, including women and children. Fish and shellfish contain protein and nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids.

The federal agencies urge people to eat up to 12 ounces (about two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. If a person's choice for a weekly fish meal is albacore tuna, then only six ounces should be eaten because it has more mercury than canned light tuna.

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