Just like with any food produced in the sunshine state, fish caught for consumption are analyzed by the Florida Department of Health. Fish filets undergo rigorous testing for chemicals, heavy metals, and other harmful compounds before they make the journey to our plates. The Department of Health releases a document with those results, advising consumers how often we can safely eat fish caught in different water bodies. Since fresh fish doesn’t come with a warning label, recreational fishermen will especially benefit from keeping up-to-date with the test results.
One contaminant of concern is a certain type of mercury, “methylmercury.” Exposure to this substance can cause symptoms like respiratory problems, disorientation, and changes in vision, hearing, or speech. Children with high levels of mercury in their systems can also experience language development issues, decreased hand-eye coordination, and trouble with problem-solving skills. Methylmercury stores itself in an animal’s fat tissues and cannot be expelled, making a lifetime of consumption particularly dangerous.
Raw mercury is not toxic. Unfortunately, the methylmercury that causes negative neurological symptoms forms when mercury is added to our oceans. Human sources of mercury include burning of fossil fuels and runoff from heavy industry. Methylmercury enters the marine food web through plankton, the microscopic plants and animals at the lowest level in the web. The higher up the food web you go, the more concentrated the methylmercury. The Florida Department of Health Advisory Report cautions against any consumption of sharks, a top predator, because of this effect. Fish caught in water bodies near urban areas also have low scores because of higher heavy metal levels in these areas.
We need to fully understand how our behaviors on land impact the oceans we rely on for play, work, and food. In the meantime, education is our best way to safely enjoy the bounty of Florida’s waterways. Recreational fishermen are especially encouraged to keep up-to-date on fish advisories. Visit the Florida Department of Health’s Guide to Eating Fish Caught in Florida for a complete list of fresh and marine fishes advisories, and to see what other toxins our fish filets are tested for. You can read a complete overview of the Fish Advisory program by regularly checking the main Fish Consumption Advisory page for updates.