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2008 National Listing of Fish Advisories: Questions & Answers

What is the National Listing of Fish Advisories?

The National Listing of Advisories is a compilation of fish advisory information provided to EPA by states, tribes, territories, and local governments. They submit the information voluntarily to EPA to help create a central repository of fish consumption advisories information for the U.S. EPA makes the information available via the EPA website www.epa.gov/fishadvisories.

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What is a fish advisory?

A fish consumption advisory is not a regulation, but rather a voluntary recommendation issued to help protect public health.

Consumption advisories may include recommendations to limit or avoid eating certain fish and water-dependent wildlife species caught from specific water bodies or, in some cases, from specific water-body types (e.g., all lakes) due to contamination by one or more chemical contaminants. An advisory may be issued for the general population (i.e., general public), including recreational and subsistence fishers, or it may be issued specifically for sensitive populations, such as pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children.

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What kind of information is included in the National Listing of Fish Advisories?

The National Listing of Fish Advisories database includes information on the geographic location of advisories, chemical contaminants causing advisories, the species of fish/wildlife affected, the type of advisory (such as no consumption or limited consumption), the population affected (such as women of childbearing age, children, general population), and web links to state and tribal advisory program contacts.

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Does EPA analyze this data or does EPA require that the data be gathered in a specific way?

No. EPA simply provides as a service to the public a central 'one-stop' repository for the convenience of the public. EPA has issued guidance that provides information for the states to assist in developing methods of monitoring, gathering and assessing information about their fish populations but it is not mandatory. The States have primary responsibility for these decisions. Thus the basis for each State fish advisory varies.

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Can EPA draw conclusions or identify trends from this National Listing?

No. EPA's role is to provide a central repository. Each State determines the scope and extent of monitoring, which waters should be placed under advisory, etc. Thus the information is highly variable and makes it difficult to draw conclusions or trends.

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What are the Key Findings for the 2008 National Listing of Fish Advisories?

  • There was an increase in the number of advisories issued in 2008 as compared to 2006. The number of advisories issued increased by 397 bringing the total number of advisories in effect from 3,852 in 2006 to 4,249 in 2008. This does not mean that contaminant levels in fish are increasing nationwide but rather, that states are doing more monitoring of their waterbodies.
    1. 1. In 2008, 43 percent of the Nation's lake acres (except the Great Lakes) and 39 percent of the Nation's total river miles were under a fish advisory. This represents an 18 percent and 52 percent increase (respectively) from 2006. The increase in lake acres and river miles under advisory from 2006 to 2008 can be attributed primarily to issuance of several new statewide advisories. Delaware, Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming issued new statewide advisories for all freshwaters in 2007 and 2008.
  • States continued to issue safe eating guidelines. These guidelines let the public know when fish from specific water bodies or specific species of fish have been tested for chemical contaminants and have been shown to contain very low levels of contaminants.
    1. In 2008, there were safe eating guidelines for 8 percent of the Nation's total lake acres and 2 percent of the Nation's total river miles.
    2. The number of safe eating guidelines decreased from 1247 in 2006 to 874 in 2008. Although 120 new safe eating guidelines were issued between 2006 and 2008, the overall geographic area covered by these guidelines decreased because one state rescinded almost 500 guidelines in the past two years.

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Why have the number of advisories and the geographic extent of advisories steadily increased over the past 14 years?

The increase in advisories is believed to be primarily due to increased sampling of previously untested waters by states and tribes and not necessarily due to increased levels or frequency of contamination.

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Why is there a significant increase in the number of river miles and/or lake acres placed under advisory during 2008?

In recent years, the trend has been for states to issue advisories that cover all of their waters for a particular contaminant or fish species. These statewide advisories have created significant increases in reported waters under advisory and therefore significant increases in the total percentage of waters under advisory in the Nation. Delaware, Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming issued new statewide advisories for all freshwaters in 2007 and 2008. In 2008, 38 states had statewide advisories in effect.

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Why is the sum of the advisories reported for the individual bioaccumulative contaminants larger than the total number of advisories in the U.S. for each given year?

An advisory for a specific waterbody may be for more than one pollutant (e.g., mercury and PCBs). When calculating the total number of advisories in the U.S., EPA counts a waterbody as one advisory, even if it is under advisory for multiple contaminants. If the advisory applies to a specific contaminant, then it is counted in the total number of advisories for that contaminant. Therefore, when a waterbody is under advisory for multiple contaminants, it will be counted multiple times. This is why the sum of the individual contaminant advisories will always exceed the total number of advisories in the US for a given year.

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How does mercury, which is generally emitted in a gaseous elemental or ionic form, end up as methylmercury in the muscle tissue of fish?

The answer involves a number of complex physical and chemical processes that are not well understood. The cycling, fate, and chemical form of mercury in natural environments, its uptake by biota, its bioaccumulation in the food chain, and its occurrence in fish are all areas that require continued research.

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What steps is EPA taking to reduce the mercury levels in fish, the leading cause of fish advisories?

EPA issues regulations that require industry to reduce mercury releases to air and water and to properly dispose of mercury wastes. EPA also works with industry to promote voluntary reductions in mercury use and release, and with partners in state, local and tribal governments to improve their mercury reduction programs. EPA works with international organizations to prevent the release of mercury in other countries. The public can also contribute to mercury reduction efforts by purchasing mercury-free products and correctly disposing of products that contain mercury.

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For what pollutants are the advisories issued and what has been done to reduce the occurrence of these pollutants in the environment?

Most advisories involve five primary bioaccumulative contaminants: mercury, PCBs, chlordane, dioxins, and DDT. These chemical contaminants persist for long periods in sediments where bottom-dwelling animals accumulate and pass them up the food chain to fish. Mercury, PCBs, chlordane, dioxins, and DDT were at least partly responsible for 97 percent of all fish consumption advisories in effect in 2008. Considerable progress has been made towards reducing the occurrence of these contaminants in the environment: human-caused emissions of mercury to the air in the United States have declined more than 50 percent since 1990 and EPA has issued regulations that will result in further reduction of mercury emissions; production of PCBs for use ceased in 1977; chlordane was banned in 1988; DDT was banned in 1972; and known and quantifiable industrial emissions of dioxin in the United States are estimated to have been reduced by approximately 90percent from 1987 levels.

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What about recent advice from EPA and FDA about mercury in fish?

In 2004, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued advice concerning mercury in fish. This advice is unchanged. The advice resulted from a careful process where the agencies worked together with a wide range of consumers to identify the most effective ways to deliver the message without also creating undue concern about eating fish. The advice targets women who might become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children. You can find more information about this joint federal advisory.

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Where can I get more information about fish advisories?

For more information about the National Listing of Fish Advisories and the advisories themselves, you can visit the EPA's fish advisory website at www.epa.gov/fishadvisories. To find out how to select and prepare fish, read the brochure "Should I Eat the Fish I Catch?" available in several languages. For more information about reducing your health risks from eating fish you catch, contact your local or state health or environmental protection department. You can find the telephone number in the blue section of your local telephone directory, or you can find the name and number of a state or local fish advisory contact on the EPA fish advisory website.

For a more detailed analysis of the 2008 National Listing of Fish Advisories, see our Technical Fact Sheet.

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