view counter

How Much Fish Is Safe to Eat?

From the Bay, you can enjoy a little more

After yet another great rockfish dinner, I decided to do a little research on past warnings about contaminants in our Bay waters, hence in our striped bass.
    Checking out the latest Maryland Department of the Environment Updated Fish Consumption Advisory for Maryland, I found great news and a little bad news.
    Good news first: The most recent testing of Bay rockfish showed a decided decrease in contaminant levels, meaning more rockfish can now be safely consumed from our waters. The differences between the old and new advisories reflect a significant decline in the level of polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, in striped bass analyzed by the Maryland Department of the Environment.


   Livelining for rockfish has been the way to go, while chumming has fallen to second place for light-tackle angling. Trollers are continuing to pick up good limits.
   The number of small, first- and second-year stripers has become astronomical as little devils are breaking all over the Bay, feeding ravenously on the young-of-year minnows, anchovies and bunker schooled near the surface. This bodes well for some great rockfishing within the next three years.
   Also good news is the onslaught of jumbo white perch. With the largest population of these fish in years, 10-inch fish are common with plenty of larger fish up to 12 inches.
   The number of tiny croaker in the Bay continues to surprise everyone. A result of our mild winter, there should be an outstanding season for these guys once they reach legal size.
   Crabs continue to sputter along, suggesting late-year abundance as the many small throwbacks achieve keeper dimensions.

    PCBs, the culprit in the majority of serving limitations on how much fish is safe to eat, were once widely used by utility companies and other industries as coolants in transformers, electric motors and other electrical applications. They were determined to be a toxic and a persistent pollutant and banned by the U.S. Congress in 1979.
    The disposal of these outlawed compounds was not carefully monitored, and a great deal ended up in the Chesapeake and its tributaries. Because of this lingering contamination, consumption advisories for finfish harvested throughout the Bay have continued to be guarded. Now, that contamination level is dropping.
    It’s now considered safe for adults to eat three eight-ounce servings per month of rockfish up to 28 inches in length from the Bay proper and its tributaries. Two three-ounce servings is the safety level for children.
    Meals from rockfish larger than 28 inches from both the Bay and all Atlantic Coastal waters should be less frequent: Recommended servings are only one per month for adults and one every other month for children.
    That’s not much fish for a guy like me.
    Norfolk spot from throughout the Bay are relatively contaminant-free, since they only reside here during a few months in the summer. Adults can safely enjoy five servings per month, children four smaller servings.
    White perch are localized and do not generally travel far from home waters, so they are are rated by specific area. Those from the Eastern Bay are regarded as unaffected by contaminants and can be consumed without restriction.
    Other good perch areas are the Patuxent and Nanticoke rivers, rated at eight servings per month, the Choptank at six, the Pocomoke and Gunpowder at five, and the Chester and Magothy at four servings.
    Near the bottom of the list, unfortunately, with only one to two servings a month of white perch recommended, remain the Severn, the South, the Rhode, the West, the Sassafras, the Elk and the Northeast rivers as well as Herring Bay.
    The mid-Bay waters from Pooles Island to Bodkin Point, plus waters in the Patapsco, Middle and Back rivers, are the most severely restricted zones with only one serving of perch every other month recommended for adults and none for children.
    However you can eat all you can catch of white perch from the main stem of the Bay.
    Saving the best news for last, I can tell you that our Chesapeake Bay blue crabs remain fine for unlimited consumption almost everywhere.
    The lone exception is those harvested from the mid-Bay. Consumption of crabs harvested from the Middle River to Baltimore Harbor and the Patapsco should be limited to six eight-ounce servings per month for adults and five three-ounce servings for children. Eating the mustard from these crabs is unfortunately a no-no. That’s where contaminants tend to concentrate. The crab mustard from all other areas of the Chesapeake can be eaten, but only sparingly, for the same reason.
    You’ll find additional details at Search Fish Consumption Advisory.