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UNCE researchers to present key information on mercury in fish

Posted 6/19/2009

What: Mercury in Fish: Risks and Benefits to Nevada Consumers

Where: Joe Crowley Student Union, Room 422

When: Wednesday, June 24, 2009, 1-5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Fish are an important part of any healthy diet. They are a source of lean, low-calorie protein and omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet including a variety of fish can contribute to overall heart health and children’s proper growth and development. But discoveries of methyl mercury—a carbon compound form of mercury found in nearly all fish—are threatening the relationship that has existed between humans and fish for thousands of years.

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) and the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) have partnered with state and national specialists to present a public meeting on the risks and benefits of fish consumption in Northern Nevada. The four-hour, free presentation begins Wednesday, June 24 at 1 p.m. in Room 422 of UNR’s Joe Crowley Student Union.

UNCE Water Quality Specialist Sue Donaldson said Nevadans will learn the impact of organic, methyl mercury in local fish and what its presence means for both anglers and reservoir managers.

“There’s a lot of conflicting information about mercury in fish right now, and it can be difficult to know what to do about it,” Donaldson said. “There are ways to have fish in your diet and still reduce your exposure to mercury. We also hope to help managers of fisheries by providing information about mercury in fish, water and sediments from five reservoirs in northern Nevada.”

Methyl mercury is a neurotoxin accumulated by many living things. Nevada fish like wipers, white bass and walleye accumulate methyl mercury through respiration and diet. In Lahontan Reservoir, officials reported elevated levels of mercury in carp and game fish, and anglers have been advised to follow a catch-and-release policy. Mercury in these fish derived from silver mining in the 1800s.

Erosion of natural deposits of mercury, discharge from refineries and factories, and runoff from landfills, croplands and mining sites can all lead to elevated levels of methyl mercury in lakes, rivers and reservoirs.

Many types of fish contain only harmless, trace amounts of mercury. Canned light tuna and oily fish like salmon contain little methyl mercury, are great sources of protein, and are part of a heart-healthy diet.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises pregnant women, women who may become pregnant and young children to follow three recommendations when choosing fish for consumption. Parents should follow these recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to young children, but they should serve smaller, age-appropriate portions:

  1. Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish — period. These fish accumulate more mercury over a longer lifespan.
  2. Eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) of fish per week that are low in mercury like shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish — six ounces per week for albacore.
  3. Stay up-to-date on local advisories about fish-consumption safety in your local lakes and rivers. If no advice is available, eat up to six ounces per week of fish from local waters, but don’t consume any other fish during that week.

More information on mercury and fish is available at The EPA’s Mercury Advisory Web page.

As states increase the waters they monitor for contaminated fish, both the number of advisories and the waters where it is safe to eat fish are increasing, according to the EPA. Anglers should keep angling and fish fans should continue to enjoy fish while remaining up-to-date on mercury levels in various reservoirs and fish species.

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