How contaminated is the fish we eat?

New guideline raises red flags about some types of fish

By Steve Garagiola - Reporter/Anchor, Derick Hutchinson

DETROIT - Fish is a great source of vitamins, minerals and protein in a diet, but it can also be a source of some toxic chemicals.

How contaminated is the fish we eat, and what can you do to better protect yourself and your family?

A new guideline is raising red flags about some of people's favorite kinds of fish. Experts are revealing which ones should be limited or avoided completely.

Fish is very popular in Michigan and across the country. In fact, U.S. residents are now eating more fish than beef.

Kevin Dean and his brother own Superior Fish Co. in Royal Oak and supply seafood from all over the world to most of Southeast Michigan.

"On a weekly basis, in just fresh seafood alone, we go through about 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of seafood a week," Dean said.

For many years, Lonnie Zaid has acquired his fish one at a time. He said he comes to the Detroit River to look for dinner.

"I eat fish probably every other day," Zaid said. "That's the largest staple of my diet, is fish."

Fish is a healthy choice, according to Local 4 medical expert Dr. Frank McGeorge, who is an avid fisherman himself.

"Fish is a great source of minerals, protein and very heart-healthy fats," McGeorge said. "So fish has a lot of health benefits."

But most fish also carry the invisible threat of contamination.

"The larger the fish, the more it concentrates certain poisons in our water, like mercuries, PCBs, dioxins -- things you don't want in your body," McGeorge said.

These metals, industrial chemicals and pesticides settle in our waterways to become part of the food chain. Should you worry about that?

"You know, I've been doing this so long -- since I was 4 years old, and I'm 50 now. So, I kind of like fishing," resident Shawn Singleton said. "Like I said, it's chemicals and everything."

Dr. Donna Kashian, professor of biological science at Wayne State University, said people need to concern themselves with the contamination of fish.

"If you are pregnant, if you are under 11 years old, you are going to be more sensitive to some of these compounds," Kashian said.

Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services recently published a comprehensive guide to safe fish in Michigan.

"Choose better," Kashian said. "You can pick fish that are lower in contaminants. Yellow perch is a great one in the state of Michigan and the Great Lakes."

As a general guideline, bigger is not better.

"I don't buy swordfish," Kashian said. "I don't buy some fish that I know are very -- tuna is another one -- very high in contaminants."

Stay away from bottom feeders.

"The catfish and the carp both will eat at the bottom, where those contaminants are very heavy, so they are getting more direct links," Kashian said.

According to the safe fish guide, you should choose fish such as bluegill, crappie and rock bass.

"Smaller fish are less fatty fish, and they are feeding higher up at the food chain and plankton, so they're not picking up as much of the contaminants as some of these other fish," Kashian said.

As it is with real estate, when it comes to fish, it's about location, location, location.

"I don't want to be that person in the restaurant, like, 'Where did your fish come from?'" Kashian said. "But it does make a difference. There are certain areas where fish are going to have higher contaminant levels than others."

The safe fish guide recommends learning the three C's -- how to choose, clean and cook your fish -- and limit the amount of fish you eat.

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