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 – are unsafe to eat. These fish can have high amounts of chemicals, including PCBs, dioxins or mercury. These chemicals accumulate in 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. Often, carp and catfish found in Michigan’s rivers, streams and areas of the Great Lakes have high amounts of chemical contamination

The Michigan Department of Community Health 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. Mercury 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.

The Community Health professionals also recommend that you avoid eating any of these fish, as they contain mercury: Shark, Swordfish, Tilefish or King Mackerel. The fish advisory varies from each body of water and from state to state. Be sure to check advisories for your area to reduce your risk.

Many Michigan lakes have been stocked with catfish and are known to have less chemical contamination. Contact your local DNR office for more information about these locations.