Fishing For Answers On Healthy Seafood?

March 10, 2004

(10 March 2004)  Environmental Defense today released new information to help consumers navigate the murky waters of choosing seafood that is both ecologically friendly and low in dangerous contaminants.  A new layer of health advisories for fish high in contaminants such as mercury and PCBs has been added to the nonprofit’s web-based Seafood Selector, which ranks fish by “eco-best” and “eco-worst.”  Visit to view the list.

“There is no one-size-fits all answer to the question of what are the safest fish, but consumers still should know what contaminants are in their food,” said Dr. Rebecca Goldburg, Ph.D., Environmental Defense scientist.  “Environmental Defense aims to provide consumers with the information they need to make this very personal decision for themselves and their families.  Given all the recent news about contaminants in fish, Environmental Defense hopes this tool will help the many consumers who are eager to have more information on which to base their seafood purchases.” 

The online resource, Seafood Selector, now features comprehensive information - never before available in one place - on contaminated fish.  Environmental Defense research found that Wild Alaskan and most canned salmon, tilapia, catfish, sardines, anchovies, crawfish and many clams are plentiful appear to be low in contaminants and have few ecological drawbacks.  The site lists contaminants information for fish and consumption advice based on gender and age.  Consumers can visit the site and search for health and ecological information about their favorite fish, or print out the Pocket Seafood Selector.

“Eating fish, especially those high in omega-3 acids, is good for the heart, but consumers should be aware of the potential risks from contamination,” said John Balbus, MD, MPH, health program director for Environmental Defense.  “Because the risks are generally greatest for developing fetuses and young children, women who are pregnant or of childbearing age and anyone preparing meals for young children should be most cautious.  For others, the safest choice and the amount will depend on their gender, age, and body size.”

Environmental Defense scientists obtained data on contaminants in fish tissue from over 40 government databases and scientific studies to determine the level of contaminants in common seafood items.  The scientists focused on four types of contaminants - mercury, PCBs, dioxins and pesticides - because high levels of these chemicals are the basis for more than 95% of government fish consumption advisories in the U.S.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) risk assessment methodology for these contaminants was then used to generate fish consumption advisories.

Besides offering consumers mercury contamination advisories, Environmental Defense is also working to curb mercury emissions at the source.  A recent Environmental Defense report, “Out of Control and Close to Home” at, explains how to reduce the country’s largest single source of mercury pollution - coal fired power plants.