Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Which Fish Should I Eat? Perspectives Influencing Fish Consumption Choices

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Which Fish Should I Eat? Perspectives Influencing Fish Consumption Choices

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: Diverse perspectives have influenced fish consumption choices.

OBJECTIVES: We summarized the issue of fish consumption choice from toxicological, nutritional, ecological, and economic points of view; identified areas of overlap and disagreement among these viewpoints; and reviewed effects of previous fish consumption advisories.

METHODS: We reviewed published scientific literature, public health guidelines, and advisories related to fish consumption, focusing on advisories targeted at U.S. populations. However, our conclusions apply to groups having similar fish consumption patterns.

DISCUSSION: There are many possible combinations of matters related to fish consumption, but few, if any, fish consumption patterns optimize all domains. Fish provides a rich source of protein and other nutrients, but because of contamination by methylmercury and other toxicants, higher fish intake often leads to greater toxicant exposure. Furthermore, stocks of wild fish are not adequate to meet the nutrient demands of the growing world population, and fish consumption choices also have a broad economic impact on the fishing industry. Most guidance does not account for ecological and economic impacts of different fish consumption choices.

CONCLUSION: Despite the relative lack of information integrating the health, ecological, and economic impacts of different fish choices, clear and simple guidance is necessary to effect desired changes. Thus, more comprehensive advice can be developed to describe the multiple impacts of fish consumption. In addition, policy and fishery management interventions will be necessary to ensure long-term availability of fish as an important source of human nutrition.

KEY WORDS: advisory, economics, fish, methylmercury, nutrition, ocean ecology, polychlorinated biphenyls, polyunsaturated fatty acid, toxicology. Environ Health Respect 120:790-798 (2012). http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104500 [Online 22 February 2012]

The public receives fish consumption advice from a variety of perspectives, including toxicant, nutritional, ecological, and economic viewpoints. For example, U.S. federal and state agencies that are concerned about exposure to toxicants in fish, such as methylmercury (MeHg) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), have issued fish consumption advisories recommending that at-risk groups limit consumption of fish [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2004]. However, national organizations of physicians and nutritionists encourage fish consumption for the entire population as a way to increase dietary intake of the n-3 (omega-3) long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) that may prevent cardiovascular disease and improve neurological development (Kris-Etherton et al. 2002; Kris-Etherton and Innis 2007; Lee et al. 2009). Also, environmental groups have recommended that consumers avoid certain fish on the basis of concerns about species depletion or habitat destruction consequent to farming methods, site of origin, or type of harvesting (Monterey Bay Aquarium 2011). Whether, how much, and what type of fish a person eats are also influenced by economic and market considerations (e.g., cost and availability) as well as by taste, cultural tradition, recreational habits, and access to alternative foods.

Thus, the consumer who wants to know "which fish should I eat?" is likely to encounter contradictory advice, especially because much of the available information considers a single perspective, such as maximizing health or minimizing ecological harms. For example, because farm-raised salmon is high in n-3 fatty acids and very low in mercury, it is promoted for its nutritional benefits. However, environmental groups consider it a "fish to avoid" because salmon aquaculture may adversely affect ecosystem integrity and wild fish stocks (Monterey Bay Aquarium 2011), and relatively high levels of PCBs have led to concerns about cancer risk (Hites et al. …

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