Fish Consumption Advice for Alaskans
It is important to note that most halibut caught in Alaska are relatively small, and on average these smaller halibut do not contain mercury at levels of health concern. In 2006, the average size of a recreationally- caught halibut in Alaska was 23 pounds.143 Similarly, the average size of a subsistence-caught halibut in
2005 was 27 pounds.147,148 was 33 pounds. 149
The average size of a commercially-caught halibut from Alaska waters in 2005
Consumers of store- or restaurant-bought fish are encouraged to eat more fish, particularly fish that are lower in mercury, for their important health benefits. Very few commercial fish from Alaska are affected by the Alaska fish consumption guidelines. Most Alaska fish species, including all five wild Alaskan salmon species, are very low in mercury and are safe to eat in unlimited quantities. Women who are or can become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children may eat as many as sixteen store- or restaurant-bought halibut meals per month, as the average weight of commercially-caught halibut in Alaska is only 33 pounds. On occasion, lingcod, yelloweye rockfish, and spiny dogfish may also be available commercially. Consumers of those fish species should follow the fish consumption guidelines outlined in Table 8.
DPH encourages health care providers to promote fish consumption as a healthy dietary choice, and as a tool to reduce the risks associated with several common chronic diseases. Special information is being developed for health care providers who treat pregnant patients. It is important for health care providers to know that fish consumption is essential for optimal fetal brain development, so that patients are not mistakenly advised to avoid fish consumption due to mercury or other concerns. DPH is providing information to obstetricians and other health care providers about those Alaska fish species with low mercury levels, those with the highest omega-3 fatty acid levels (and thus the greatest potential benefit to the developing fetus), and those that should be consumed sparingly during pregnancy.
Data Gaps and Future Research Priorities
The Alaska Scientific Advisory Committee for Fish Consumption has identified a number of data gaps and research priorities for the future. These include:
There are insufficient human biomonitoring data. The statewide surveillance program for women of childbearing age should be continued indefinitely to inform public health officials about trends of mercury exposure among locations and through time. The Section of Epidemiology should perform more targeted projects among individual communities with the potential for higher mercury exposures, to ensure that no Alaskans incur exposure to mercury at levels of health concern.
There are insufficient mercury data on Alaska halibut. More information is needed to learn about location-specific trends, time trends, size/mercury concentration relationships, feeding ecology, and gender-specific information about mercury levels. In addition, more halibut in the large size classes (over 50 pounds) need to be tested in order to better characterize mercury concentrations in these fish.
There are insufficient data on fish consumption rates and practices among urban Alaskans.
There are insufficient data on omega-3 fatty acid levels and other nutrients in each Alaskan fish species. These data are needed to effectively incorporate benefit information into local fish consumption advice.
There are insufficient sample sizes for many Alaska fish species, including all rockfish species, burbot, sheefish, lake trout, rainbow trout, and grayling.
Baseline data are needed for many Alaska fish species that have not yet been tested by ADEC’s Fish Monitoring Program, including Arctic char, Dolly Varden, herring, eulachon, whitefish, blackfish, cisco, tomcod and smelt.
There are insufficient mercury data on king crab and other shellfish from Alaska waters.
There are insufficient data on fish from inland waters of Alaska. Variation in mercury content among fish in different watersheds is likely, making this a challenging task for a state as large as Alaska.