Chesapeake Quarterly Volume 7, Number 1: Safe Seafood in the Chesapeake Bay
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Safe Seafood in the Chesapeake Bay

By Jessica Smits

Nutritionists recommend fish as an important part of a balanced diet. But the presence of environmental contaminants like mercury and PCBs has led government agencies and environmental groups to advise consumers to limit consumption of some types of fish.

Eating fish high in contaminants could cause adverse human health effects. Mercury can negatively impact the developing neurological systems of fetuses and children, while PCBs have been linked to cancer.

Some species found in local waters, like blue crabs and striped bass, are flagged for contaminant concerns on the Seafood Watch Program's pocket guides (See Eat This Fish, Not That Fish). Issued by their partner Environmental Defense, these warnings, however, are based on data throughout the species' entire range, and are not specific to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is tasked with monitoring and evaluating contaminant levels in fish, shellfish, and crabs in Maryland waters. They routinely test blue crabs and striped bass as well as many other species in the Chesapeake and its tributaries.

There are currently no advisories on blue crab meat in Maryland except for crabs in the Patapsco River and Baltimore Harbor, a noted hotspot for contaminants. MDE does, however, issue an advisory for striped bass throughout the Bay and its tributaries. It recommends approximately 2 meals a month for adults and fewer than 2 meals a month for children and women of childbearing age. Striped bass over 28 inches are not recommended for children, and MDE suggests adult men and women limit consumption to less than one meal per month.

Interestingly, MDE issues these advisories for recreational catch only. For commercial advisories, they direct consumers to the Environmental Protection Agency's website — though the advisories are essentially the same.

Harley Speir, a fisheries biologist at Maryland Department of Natural Resources says he hopes area fishermen support state and federal efforts to rid the Bay of contaminants and control their sources. "It's more than how many fish there are. And how many we can take." he says. "It's how many fish are there and are they safe to eat?"

For more information:

Maryland Department of the Environment
Fish Consumption Advisory

United States Environmental Protection Agency
Fish Advisories

Environmental Defense
Seafood and Your Health

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