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DNREC and the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) work together to monitor the presence of chemical toxins in the flesh of finfish and shellfish in Delaware waters. They issue periodic fish consumption advisories to guide anglers on the amount of fish they can safely consume.
DNREC Fisheries Section
DHSS Div. of Public Health
Even when present in the water in extremely small amounts, some chemicals tend to accumulate in fish tissue because fish absorb contaminants from the water and sediment and from the food they eat. The amount of contaminants fish accumulate depends on the species, size, age, and sex, and the feeding area of the fish.
Generally speaking, older, larger individual fish accumulate the most contaminants. In some cases contaminants are shed each time the fish spawn. Since fish accumulate many contaminants in their fatty tissues, certain species with higher oil content can pose more risk than others when both inhabit polluted areas.
Fish consumption advisories are recommendations by DNREC and DHSS to limit or avoid eating certain species of fish caught in local waters due to potential health risks from contaminants.
Fish consumption advisories issued in early 2018 show that the concentration of chemical contaminants in fish caught from Delaware waterways continues to decline – which indicates water quality is improving throughout the state and also means that fish caught in many Delaware waters can be eaten with lowered concerns about risks to public health.
The updated advisories communicate continuing good news to anglers and anyone who would include locally-caught fish in their diet, by following the same trend as the 2016 fish consumption advisories that showed some of the most significant declines in fish tissue contaminant concentrations since the state began assessing contaminants in fish in 1986.
In addition to the updated advisories, DNREC and DHSS remind the public of the general statewide fish consumption advisory, issued in 2007 and still in effect: Eat no more than one 8-oz. meal per week of any fish species caught in Delaware’s fresh, estuarine and marine waters. This advisory applies to all waters and fish species not otherwise explicitly covered by an advisory.
The statewide advisory is issued in an abundance of caution to protect against eating large amounts of fish or fish that have not been tested, or that may contain unidentified chemical contaminants. Delaware issues more stringent advice for specific waters when justified by the data. One meal is defined as an 8-oz. serving for adults and 3-oz. serving for children.
Contaminants tend to concentrate in the fatty tissue, so proper cleaning and cooking techniques can significantly reduce levels of PCBs, dioxins, chlorinated pesticides and other organic chemicals. Larger fish tend to have higher concentrations.
Proper cleaning and preparation of fish can reduce the chance of consuming chemical contaminants.
Remove all skin from the fish. Cut away any fat above the fish’s backbone (1). Cut away the V-shaped wedge of fat along the lateral line on each side of the fish (2). Slice off fat belly meat along the bottom of the fish (3).
Bake or broil trimmed fish on a rack or grill so some of the remaining fat drips away. Discard any drippings; do not eat drippings or use them for cooking other foods.
Note: These techniques will not reduce or remove unsafe levels of mercury from fish.
Women of child bearing age and children may want to avoid eating any species of fish suspected to be a problem.
For more information, visit the EPA Fish Consumption Advisories page.