Fish Consumption Advisories

Fishing provides many benefits, including food and recreational enjoyment. Many anglers keep, cook, and eat their catches. Fish are routinely monitored for contaminants by the Department of Environmental Quality. Sometimes the fish in certain waters are found to contain potentially harmful levels of chemicals. When this happens, the Department of Health issues warnings for the affected bodies of water.

For specific, up-to-date fish consumption advisories, please see the Fish Consumption Advisories section of the Department of Health’s website or call VDH at (804) 864-8182.

Anglers should realize that they may still fish these waters and enjoy excellent recreational fishing. Below is a section on cleaning and cooking your fish, which will help reduce contamination levels in fish you eat.

Cleaning and Cooking Your Fish

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and most other organic contaminants usually build up in a fish’s fat deposits and just underneath the skin. By removing the skin and fat before cooking, you can reduce the levels of these chemicals. Mercury collects in the fish’s muscle and cannot be reduced by cleaning and cooking methods. To reduce PCBs and other organics in your fish, consider cleaning and cooking your fish as described below:

  • Remove all skin.
  • Trim off all the fat, especially the belly flap, along the lateral line on each side of the fish, along the back, and under the skin.
  • Bake or broil trimmed fish on a rack or grill. Cooking does not destroy the contaminants in fish, but heat from cooking melts some of the fat in the fish and allows some of the contaminated fat to drip away.
  • Discard any drippings. Do not eat them or use them for cooking other foods or for preparing sauces or gravies.

IMPORTANT: The meal advice included in this information is based on fish that have been skinned, trimmed, and cooked properly.

Also remember that larger and older fish tend to collect more contaminants, and fatty fish (such as channel catfish and carp) tend to collect PCBs and other organic chemicals. Eating smaller, younger fish and avoiding fatty species can help limit your exposure. Your exposure depends not only on the contaminant levels in the fish, but also on the amount of fish you eat.