Eating Fish from the Great Lakes

Hooking and Cooking

Most fish are a healthy food choice. They have a lot of protein, vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy oils. But some fish — like catfish and carp — can be unsafe to eat. Some fish found in Michigan’s rivers, streams, and areas of the Great Lakes have high amounts of chemical contamination. PCBs, dioxins, or mercury can accumulate in the fat and flesh of fish. As a result, eating some types of fish too often can cause health problems. Children and women who are pregnant or might become pregnant are most at risk of health problems from eating contaminated fish.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services produces the Eat Safe Fish Guide, which contains guidelines for choosing and eating fish. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services professionals recommend taking the following steps to reduce your risk by carefully trimming and cooking fish.

Reduce Your Risk:

  • Trimming and cooking off the fat can remove up to half the chemicals.*
  • Choose smaller, younger fish that are lower in chemical contamination.
  • Instead of catching and eating catfish or carp, try bluegill, perch, walleye, rock bass, and black crappie.
  • Fish in less contaminated waters.

*Most chemicals are stored in the fat except for mercury and PFOS (an ingredient used in waterproofing materials and firefighting foam). Mercury and PFOS cannot be removed from fish.

Trimming fish

How to Trim a Fish (also see diagram above):

  • Trim away fatty areas along backbone, sides, and belly.
  • Remove organs (liver and stomach) and head.**
  • Remove the skin or poke holes in it to allow the fat to drain off.
  • Bake, broil, or grill the fish so the fat drips away.
  • If you deep-fry fish, use vegetable oil and discard after use.

NOTE: Avoid eating fish organs, head, or skin.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services professionals also recommend that you avoid eating any of these fish, as they contain mercury: Shark, Swordfish, Tilefish, or King Mackerel. Check the MDHHS Buy Safe Fish brochure when purchasing fish.

Many Michigan lakes and rivers have best choices for fish to catch and eat. Consult the MDHHS Eat Safe Fish Guide or contact the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for more information.

Eat Safe Fish in Michigan


Eat Safe Fish brochure (PDF)
Buy Safe Fish brochure (PDF)
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Eat Safe Fish Guide


Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Map of fishing areas:

Michigan Department of Natural Resources
(248) 359-9040