State updates guide for safely eating fish from Michigan waters

Apr 9, 2015

Mercury levels are staying the same or increasing in the Great Lakes.

Credit U.S. Geological Survey / http://www.usgs.gov/themes/factsheet/146-00/

The state has just released new guidelines for safely eating Great Lakes fish. Despite the bad news about mercury, there is some good news in the report. There is evidence contamination is decreasing overall in Lake Michigan. It’s now safer to eater larger fish caught in the lake.

That’s largely because fish are less contaminated with PCBs and dioxin, two chemicals no longer in use. 

Health Educator Michelle Bruneau, of the state Department of Community Health, says Michigan fish can be a great source of food and nutrition, as long as people follow guidelines for eating it. She also says, with certain contaminants, carefully trimming the fat and cooking on a grill, where excess fat drips away can reduce exposure to harmful substances by as much as 50 percent. That's especially true with dioxin and PCBs, because those settle in the fats and not in the meat of the fish.

The state offers preparation and cooking tips for different types of contamination, such as PCBs and dioxins.
Credit Michigan Department of Community Health

Unfortunately the same is not true for Mercury because that settles in the meat of the fish, she says. 

Bruneau also says mercury levels in fish are not likely to improve much, even if there are fewer coal plants in the region after next year. She says mercury travels through the atmosphere in the trade winds, and contamination in Great Lakes fish can come from anywhere around the world.

“Unfortunately, since it is a worldwide issue it’s probably not going to make a huge dent in the short term,” she says.