Largemouth Bass, Wild Catfish High in Mercury Levels

Largemouth Bass and several other freshwater fish species have been found to be potentially dangerously high in mercury.

Largemouth bass and wild-caught catfish, two popular game fish in North Carolina’s freshwaters, have been added to the N.C. Division of Public Health’s (NCDPH) list of fish in the state with high levels of mercury. As a result of these listings, the agency recommends that women of childbearing age (age 15-44), pregnant and nursing women, and children under age 15 refrain from eating these fish, and all other adults should eat only one serving per week.

Largemouth bass, originally listed as high in mercury in only a portion of the state, is the first freshwater fish to make the list statewide. Wild-caught catfish, along with bowfin, chain pickerel and warmouth, are considered high in mercury when caught south and east of Interstate 85.

In addition to these fish, more than 16 saltwater fish species are listed as having high mercury levels. Among them are albacore (canned white tuna), South Atlantic grouper, king and Spanish mackerel and shark.

Consuming fish that have high levels of mercury has been linked to abnormalities in brain development of unborn children and young children. According to the NCDPH, prenatal exposure to mercury can affect the way children think, learn, and problem-solve later in life. Effects can also occur in adults at much higher doses.

The largemouth bass is one of the most popular game fish in the Southeast, and catfish have their share of avid anglers as well. This advisory, however, shouldn’t keep people from eating fish.

“While largemouth bass and wild-caught catfish pose some health risks if consumed, there are still plenty of fish out there that are good to eat, and more importantly, good for you,” said Bob Curry, chief of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Division of Inland Fisheries, which manages freshwater fisheries in North Carolina.

Freshwater fish that are considered low in mercury and, therefore are safe to eat, are bluegill sunfish, farm-raised catfish, farm-raised crayfish, tilapia and trout. Saltwater species that are considered safe to eat include salmon, flounder, canned light tuna, pompano and a variety of shellfish, such as shrimp, scallops and oysters.

According to Dr. Luanne Williams, a toxicologist with the N.C. Division of Public Health, studies show that eating fish low in mercury is good for the heart as well as for the developing eyes and brain. Therefore, the NCDPH recommends that women of childbearing age (ages 15-44), pregnant and nursing women and children under age 15 eat two meals per week of fish low in mercury, and everyone else eat four meals per week.

For a complete list of what freshwater and saltwater fish people should eat or avoid, visit the N.C. Division of Public Health’s Web site,

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