By Caitlin Taylor
Capital News Service
Michigan health professionals still want pregnant women to eat fish in safe amounts, despite local fish advisories throughout the state.
Fish provide nutrients, like omega-3 oils, that are important to fetal brain development, Jennifer Eisner, public information officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, said. But some of the state’s water bodies are contaminated with toxins like mercury that could harm a growing fetus, she said.
“We do want pregnant women to eat locally caught fish,” Eisner said. “But we want them to check our guidelines to find out how often it’s safe to eat them.”
The department develops Eat Safe Fish guidelines that provide information on the health effects of chemicals in fish by geographic area. The guidelines apply to all Michiganders, but offer specific recommendations for pregnant women, children and those with chronic illnesses.
“The fish are analyzed for chemical contaminants by the Health and Human Services lab,” Eisner said. “Our toxicologists who review the data complete a risk assessment to determine if there’s a risk to human health and then update the guidelines.”
If fish are safe to eat, guidelines provide a suggested monthly serving. If they’re not safe, guidelines categorize fish consumption as “limited” or “do not eat.” Pregnant women are advised to avoid “limited” fish as well as those listed “do not eat.”
According to Keith Creagh, director of the Department of Natural Resources, fish in the Kalamazoo River are of particular health concern. Since an Enbridge Inc. oil pipeline spill in 2010, the river contains contaminated sediments. Fish that have been tested were found to have PCBs.
Residents in some Southwest Michigan counties like Allegan, Calhoun and Kalamazoo, are advised against eating locally caught carp, catfish or walleye, among other species.
“I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Creagh said. “I think we need to be looking at contamination, and I think we need to be looking at the quality and integrity of wild fish stocks in this state.”
Walleye is also listed as “do not eat” in Marquette County in the Upper Peninsula, along with northern pike. Carp should be limited in Lenawee County in Southeast Michigan.
Fish in Alcona, Cheboygan, Crawford, Gladwin and Montmorency counties in the northeast, and fish in Grand Traverse, Lake, Leelanau, Manistee and Osceola counties in the northwest, are safe to eat if suggested monthly serving guidelines are followed.
Along with a monthly serving limit, Health and Human Services suggests a serving size of 2 ounces for every 45 pounds of weight. Pregnant women should use their pre-pregnancy weight to determine serving size.
Despite risks, Kevin Dean, co-owner of Superior Fish Company in Royal Oak, said he feels confident selling and consuming fish, particularly if they were commercially caught, because of monitoring regulations.
“I’m very fortunate to be the father of three beautifully healthy girls, and my wife ate seafood through all three pregnancies,” Dean said.
Dean’s company sells Great Lakes whitefish, walleye, perch, trout and seasonal smelt to local schools, restaurants and markets. All the fish sold by Dean’s company are commercially caught, which he said makes a difference in terms of safety.
Store-bought and restaurant-served fish must pass Federal Drug Administration guidelines, including water quality checks, to be determined safe.
While commercially caught fish may be safer to eat than unmonitored recreationally caught fish, Health and Human Services guidelines state that some commercial fish still contain higher levels of mercury, so it’s important for pregnant women and children to continue monitoring their consumption.
Eisner said the department is reviewing Eat Safe Fish updates, and changes will be released later in the year.