BEWARE: 10 Popular Saltwater Fish High On The Mercury List!

By: Joseph Simonds on July 5, 2016
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saltwater fish high in mercury
Front Cover: Strong Anglers Tina Cerrone with the swordfish tail and Carmen Driscoll with a kingfish

Who doesn’t like to eat fish?

Vegans, I guess… but they probably aren’t spending much time on a saltwater fishing blog like this anyways…

So if you are reading this, I can assume that you love eating fresh fish as much as I do. In particular, eating saltwater fish.

I’ve been eating lots of fish ever since I was a kid, and my wife and I serve our kids fish on a regular basis today.

Fish plays an important role in our diet – giving us an excellent, low-calorie, and low-fat source of protein and other essential nutrients that we need to achieve optimal health.

And even though most freshwater and saltwater fish are generally considered safe to eat, there are some saltwater fish that contain varying levels of contaminants like mercury, PCBs, and dioxins, which they acquire from the water they live in and from the food they eat.

Though the amount of mercury in fish greatly varies depending on the type of fish, their size, weight, and age, it is still noteworthy to learn how these pollutants may pose potential health risks among us as consumers if we eat too much of it.

So as my wife and I  were doing some research in hopes of promoting a solid diet and healthier lifestyle (and because she is pregnant right now), here is the list of those saltwater fish species that could do more harm than good to you and your health if eaten out of moderation.

Here is what we found:

(Note: This list is backed up by rigid research studies and relevant health advisories published by different public health and human services and some non-profit organizations.)

10 Saltwater Fish High In Mercury

King Mackerel

king mackerel high in mercury

Strong Angler Cameron Parsons with a nice kingfish

FDA warns children, pregnant women and lactating moms to NOT eat any king mackerel due to their very high mercury content. King mackerel has one of the highest levels of mercury out of all of the popular saltwater fish.

Eliminating these fish species in your diet can definitely reduce your chances of getting exposed to the harmful effects of mercury and other existing contaminants.

Albacore (White) Tuna

albacore tuna high in mercury

Whether fresh or canned, Albacore still has mercury levels that are almost three times higher than the smaller skipjack. Sad to say, most canned white tuna is albacore – having 0.35 parts per million of mercury (ppm). Health advocates encourage children as well as pregnant and nursing mothers to only consume three to six-ounce portions of white tuna in a month.

Now does that mean that it’s time to say goodbye to tuna sandwiches?

Nope. Just eat white tuna in moderation (or not much at all if you are pregnant). Or you may still opt for chunk light tuna and skipjack tuna as alternatives. Or better yet, go for canned salmon (mostly sockeye or pink from Alaska). Saltwater salmon has low mercury levels but has high omega-3 fatty acids.

Shark

saltwater fish high in mercury

Strong Angler Matt Slack with a shark he caught

Aside from the government’s efforts to preserve their lives, some shark meat can be totally unhealthy. According to a CNN report, this type of fish has extremely high levels of metal mercury that can eventually cause coordination loss, blindness and even death, depending on the amount or portion ingested. Scientists believed that such increased mercury content was due to the accumulation of certain contaminants in their body as they eat lots of smaller fish.

“What we found for our 124 sharks that we sampled was that about one-third of them came in with mercury levels that were over the Food and Drug Administration’s action level of one part per million,” Robert Hueter, director of Mote Marine Laboratory’s Center for Shark Research in Sarasota, said in a statement.

If you are going to eat shark, do so in moderation.

Cobia

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The cobia is a delicious saltwater fish that sadly can soak up a lot of mercury. Consumer Affairs included in its news report that cobia has 3.24 ppm.

Why oh why do the best tasting fish (like cobia) have to be high in mercury!

Marlin

saltwater fish high in mercury

Salt Strong anglers standing in front of Marty the Marlin

There is an anti-marlin eating campaign out there called, “Take Marlin off the Menu” that promotes three reasons as to why we have to stop eating marlin:

  1. The marlin’s rapid mortality rate
  2. The insufficiency to meet current marlin demands all over the world
  3. And most importantly, the marlin being so high in mercury levels

Spanish Mackerel

saltwater fish high in mercury

Strong Angler Larry Strickland with a Spanish Mackerel

Although not as high in mercury as the king mackerel, the Spanish mackerel is certainly up towards the top of the list.

According to studies that we found online, the Spanish mackerel from the Gulf of Mexico were much higher in mercury than the Spanish mackerel in the Atlantic.

Swordfish

saltwater fish high in mercury

Strong Angler Tina Cerrone with what’s left of her swordfish

If you like catching daytime or nighttime swordfish, you might want to be careful how much of it you eat.

Why?

Because swordfish is up at the very top of the list in terms of mercury content for saltwater fish. Right up there with shark and the tilefish.

Bluefish

saltwater fish high in mercury

Strong Angler Cindy Dillard with an evening bluefish

Bluefish are fun to catch, will hit pretty much anything you drag through the water, and can really rip some line out on light tackle.

But they are quite high in mercury levels, so eating bluefish in moderation is highly advised.

Grouper

saltwater fish high in mercury

Strong Angler Matt Slack with a nice red grouper

Certainly one of the most popular (and delicious) saltwater fish to eat at restaurants, sadly the grouper is pretty high in mercury levels.

And that goes for all species of Grouper.

Boo!

See the best ways to cook grouper here.

Jack Crevalle

saltwater fish high in mercury

Strong Angler Ryan Nitz with a beast of a jack crevalle

They say jack crevalle can actually be poisonous to eat due to the threat of ciguatera poisoning. Though ciguatera toxin is said to be harmless to fish, it is known to be really noxious to humans.

What makes this toxin difficult to identify is that it may seem odorless and tasteless – leaving you totally clueless. More so, cooking the fish does NOT stamp out the toxins.

Although most people throw back jacks and refer to them as a “junk fish”, but for those of you that do eat them, be careful!

Other marine fish species that hit the high-mercury list are:

  • Greater Amberjack
  • South Atlantic grouper (i.e. gag, scamp, red and snowy)
  • Tilefish (also called golden or white snapper)
  • Banded Rudderfish.

Saltwater Fish With LOW Mercury Levels

saltwater fish high in mercury

Strong Angler Graves Fromang with a nice mahi mahi

You are probably wondering which saltwater species are low in mercury after reading about all of these delicious fish that have high levels of mercury.

According to the 2/16 Consumer Affairs update, here are some of the saltwater fish with some of the lowest mercury levels:

  • Flounder
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Vermilion Snapper
  • Tripletail
  • Triggerfish

Click Here To See A Listing Of Great Fish Recipes

Conclusion

The conclusion that I came to after reading everything I could about mercury and fish is that even though many of these popular saltwater fish have high mercury levels, it doesn’t mean you should stop eating these fish.

In fact, the majority of people in America need to eat MORE fish, not less fish.

One thing that most of the articles failed to mention was the role that selenium plays in fish. Selenium is something that breaks down mercury (making it not harmful to you), and the majority of fish have more selenium in their meat than they do mercury (the exceptions being shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish).

How can Mercury hurt you?

Mercury generally affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, especially among unborn babies and young children – considered to be really harmful to the child’s brain development. The higher mercury content that gets into a person’s body, the longer the exposure time, and the younger the person, the more severe the effects are likely to be.

Think of mercury just like alcohol. Too much at any one time can cause some serious issues… moderation is key.

And it’s important to note that this list doesn’t actually tell you to totally eradicate these fish species from your diet; it’s more like choosing the right fish and “calculating” your consumptions.

Needless to say, it’s basically what you know (i.e. lowering your mercury risk exposure) that can really help you keep a healthy mind and body.

With this, you can definitely make smarter and healthier choices for your ultimate fave saltwater fish recipes – and be 100% worry-free.

Fish On!

P.S. – If you think your angler friends or fishing networks would enjoy seeing this, please Tag them or Share this with them. You Rock! Pa-POW!

P.P.S. We’d love to hear from you… Let us know of any other saltwater fish high in mercury that we missed in the comment section.

Click Here To See A Listing Of Great Fish Recipes

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elaine
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elaine

I always serve my fish with chimichurri sauce. Parsley and cilantro pull heavy metals out of the body. Also, king fish since only good fresh usually gets smoked. The first step in the smoking process pulls out most of the toxins and makes the good oils more bioavailable.

Jason Stewart
Member

Hi Joe

What about fishing in canals and mangrove creeks by a golf course or subdivision neighborhood where there are fertilizer and other chemicals likely in runoff…do fish absorb that in their system making them unfit to eat or do the constantly changing tides reduce the effects of that? Always been curious about keeping fish to eat from these types of areas…

Appreciate any light you could shed on the subject.

Thanks

Jason

Michael McMillan
Member

Most state’s game and fish departments publish not only the list of fish advisories, consumption bans and cautions, but also locations and areas that are prone to exhibit higher levels of toxins in fish, both offshore and inshore…and what, specifically, those toxins are (which include dioxins, mercury and PCBs). In my home state of Texas, this is often an “eye opener” to many that may be unaware (or oblivious) of the untreated and unregulated waste disposal impact on our environment. I hope all, for their own sakes, take heed to what you’re saying, Joe, and, in addition, check out their game and fish department consumption cautions. In Texas, some of these “suggestions” are downright scary, so most all take heed to the advisories and take care of where they’re fishing. We still have a lot of Gulf Coast that’s clean and relatively free of serious concerns and I would venture the thought that most of us want to improve it not only for ourselves but for our future generations.

Rick Jeror
Member

Thanks Matt Slack,
I do love grouper and will think about it more when I’m eating it? I hardly ever get it. But will definitely be more aware!

Phillip Brown
Ambassador

Inshore it is then!

Mark Bailey
Member

From what I’ve read, the higher on the food chain, the more contamination is likely. As we’re finding here in Maine though, it’s not just the fish.

http://bangordailynews.com/2016/06/22/news/state/more-fishing-grounds-closed-after-mercury-contamination-found/

Jim Jacobus
Ambassador

Great report Joe! The extent of mercury contamination in various species was interesting and rather surprising. Thank you.