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State health department says it’s OK to eat more fish — but is it?

The quality of Minnesota’s lakes hasn’t improved over the last year and they still contain the same levels of neurotoxins like mercury — and even a new one. But the Minnesota Department of Health says it’s now OK to eat more fish. 
 
“The health benefits of eating more fish are clear,” said Pat McCann, an environmental health researcher and coordinator of the fish consumption advisory.  McCann said that while water quality hasn’t changed, “we have reanalyzed data in a different way.” 
 
Same water quality levels, same chemicals…but eat more fish?

Kathleen Schuler at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy agrees that fish provide obvious health benefits, especially fetal-brain development that’s a plus for pregnant women. 
 
But, she says, chemicals are still present in fish and people still have to watch what they eat. 
 
“The Health Department needs to do a better job of explaining why the fish advisory is being changed,” Schuler said. 
 
Steven Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and former deputy commissioner of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, said the new fish advisory can confuse people to thinking that the state’s water quality has improved while it has not. 

Indeed, the Health Department’s new advisory lists a new contaminant in addition to mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The new toxin is called PFCs for a family of “perfluorochemicals” compounds, a former 3M chemical that was detected in sunfish from Lake Calhoun in 2006. 

Based on broader state surveys, the new advisory indicates that bluegills, crappies and largemouth bass from metro rivers and 14 lakes should be eaten no more than once a month or  once a week, depending the size of the consumer and whether she is pregnant. 

This year’s advisory, a feature of the Health Department for 20 years, is based on 4,500 fish samples, or twice the number previously tested.  

If you’re interested in more information about what you can eat, consult the state’s advisory here. Or you can go to the innovative Smart Fish Calculator by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
 
Schuler, who devised the calculator, gives this general advice for pregnant women: You’re best to stick with wild salmon, herring, sardines, farm tilapia, haddock or cod.  Chunk light tuna is OK, but only once a week. No walleye and northern pike, and avoid panfish and bass from metro lakes.

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