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February 16, 2006

Gulf Fishermen: Look Before You Hook

BY: srowe

Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo Mercury Results Suggest Need for New Health Warnings and More Testing

This past summer Oceana teamed up with recreational anglers for the 73rd annual Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. Despite our love for a little seafood, Oceana was not there to join in the catch, but rather to collect samples of the fish landed to test for mercury. Thanks to the help of some pretty talented anglers and fishing friends, we were able to collect 190 fish from 30 species, many of which were tournament winners.

Today, the results of these tests were released in a report entitled What’s on the Hook? Mercury Levels and Seafood Consumption Surveyed at a Gulf of Mexico Deep Sea Rodeo.

The results of this study provide a long overdue update on current mercury levels found in fish of the Gulf region. In fact, the study provides the first Gulf mercury data available for species such as gray triggerfish and bigeye tuna. It also significantly increases the amount of publicly available Gulf mercury data for several other frequently consumed species such as yellowfin tuna, vermilion snapper, and Warsaw grouper.

Among the findings of this report, it was revealed that nearly half of the species sampled had average mercury concentrations above the level at which Florida and Louisiana issue consumption advisories (0.5 parts per million (ppm)). Of these, four species had an average mercury level exceeding 1 ppm, the FDA action level and the level at which Alabama and Mississippi currently issue advisories for no consumption. The lowest average mercury levels were observed in flounder, dolphin (mahi mahi), vermilion snapper, tripletail (blackfish), and gray triggerfish.

While the findings of this study represent a mere glimpse of possible mercury levels in Gulf fish species, they nonetheless illustrate the fact that there are other species of fish with high levels of mercury that are not being addressed by government and state health departments through consumption warnings. This needs to change. Currently, data for mercury levels in many Gulf species is lacking. States must close this information gap and fully identify all fish species that pose a significant health threat to anglers due to mercury contamination. In contributing to this effort, states should also begin to share monitoring data for under-sampled, popular northern Gulf fish and begin to coordinate fish advisory information for recreational anglers to ensure coastal residents are informed and safe in their seafood consumption.

More information on the findings of this report can be found at