Fable: The Benefits of Eating Fish far Outweigh the Minuscule Risks from Mercury

Facts: This claim exaggerates what the scientific evidence shows, summarized above. It suggests that consumers should simply eat lots of fish, and not be concerned about mercury. That proposition rests on two false assumptions: (1) Fish is fish, that is, all fish are alike; and (2) Risk/benefit trade-offs are unavoidable.

All fish are definitely not alike. Fish and shellfish varieties vary by more than 100-fold in mercury levels, and also vary in their content of specific beneficial nutrients. Nine of the 11 most popular American fish and seafood choices are low in mercury.

See our list of low-mercury fish.

While two-thirds of the fish and shellfish Americans eat each year are low in mercury, several popular seafood varieties have well-above-average levels, and some are very high in mercury. Information on the mercury content of popular fish and shellfish varieties is widely available, for instance on the US FDA’s food safety web site, but doesn’t reach most consumers.

See our listing of fish and shellfish by mercury levels.

On the second point, risk/benefit trade-offs are not inevitable at all. By choosing low-mercury fish, people can gain the nutritional benefits of fish and simultaneously minimize mercury risks.