Angling for health: What you need to know about catching and eating fresh fish

By Sinang Lee, MPH, Health Educator at Public Health – Seattle & King County

fish advisoryHook, line, sinker… and healthy dinner! Or is it? Who you are, where you fish, and the type of fish you catch can be the difference between a heart-healthy meal stocked with brain-boosting omega-3s and exposure to harmful contamination.

As we kick off trout fishing season in Washington, we want you to know how to navigate the murky waters of fresh fish consumption. Here are some tips:

  1. You can’t go wrong with rainbow trout. Not only is it tasty and relatively easy to catch, it’s also the safest, containing relatively low levels of Mercury or PCBs. And, it just so happens that April 23rd marked the opening season for trout fishing in Washington.  Hundreds of fishers will swarm our local lakes stocked by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). It is such a big event that WDFW also sponsors a Fishing Derby during this 6-month trout season: catch one of their tagged rainbow trout fish and get a prize! (Don’t forget your fishing license!)
  2. Depending on location, other fish are okay too. Depending on where you fish, certain seafood may have more contaminants than other. In general, salmon (Chum, Coho, Pink, and Sockeye) and rainbow trout caught in King County are among the healthiest choices. If you like flatfish (e.g., English Sole, Starry Flounder), crab (Dungeness or Red Rock) or Spot Prawn, catch them from the Puget Sound piers along Seattle/Shoreline (including Alki Beach) and South King County.  Salmon, Red Rock Crab, and Spot Prawns from Elliott Bay are also safe to eat.
  3. fishing boatIf fishing from the Duwamish, catch and eat salmon only. For the Lower Duwamish River in south Seattle, where people fish off of the Spokane Bridge at the mouth of the river, the only healthy option is salmon (Chum, Coho, Pink and Sockeye). The river is a Superfund toxic cleanup site, and the resident fish (e.g., perch, sole, flounder), shellfish and crab that spend their entire lives in the river are highly contaminated.
  4. Pregnant and breastfeeding moms and kids, be careful. Some seafood contains high levels of mercury and PCBs, and this can hinder the growth and brain development of babies and children. So women who are or may become pregnant, nursing mothers and children should avoid eating highly contaminated seafood. Even if you have had some recently, do not stop breastfeeding – the benefits outweigh the risks. Simply choose healthier seafood next time. To know which ones from the markets are the best choices, see WA State Department of Health’s Healthy Fish Guide.
  5. Use our handy guide. Our Environmental Health Division recently published Protect Your Health: Fish for Healthy Seafood Choicesa guide of the common fishing lakes, rivers and piers in King County, and the relevant fish consumption advisories. For each fishing area, there is health advice on which species are healthy to eat 2 to 3 meals per week; which to limit eating per week or per month; and which to avoid due to high contaminants. You may have seen some of these recommendations on signs posted at fishing piers. This guide now captures all the relevant fish consumption advisories for King County in one place!

Check out the guide for specific advice for the Lower Duwamish River, Elliott Bay, Puget Sound (within King County), Lake Washington and Green Lake. The guide will also help you find the nearest stocked lake with rainbow trout! It is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Vietnamese, Tagalog, and Russian. To get your printed copy, contact Sinang Lee at or 206-263-1192.

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One thought on “Angling for health: What you need to know about catching and eating fresh fish

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