Water: Fish Advisories
2010 National Listing of Fish Advisories: Questions & Answers
- What is fish consumption advisory?
- What are the different types of fish advisories?
- What is the National Listing of Fish Advisories (NLFA)?
- What kind of information is included in the National Listing of Fish Advisories?
- Does EPA analyze this data or does EPA require that the data be gathered in a specific way?
- Can EPA draw conclusions or identify trends from this National Listing?
- How many advisories were there in 2009?
- How many advisories were there in 2010?
- What is a statewide advisory?
- Which states have issued statewide advisories?
- Are there any fish advisories in the Great Lakes?
- Are there any fish advisories in the Chesapeake?
- Are there any fish advisories at the beach?
- Do the states tell us where it is safe to eat fish without restrictions?
- Which contaminants cause most fish advisories?
- Why are some contaminants found at such high concentrations in some fish?
- How many mercury advisories were there in 2009 and 2010?
- How does mercury, which is generally emitted in a gaseous elemental or ionic form, end up as methylmercury in the muscle tissue of fish?
- What steps is EPA taking to reduce the mercury levels in fish, the leading cause of fish advisories?
- How many PCBs advisories were there in 2009 and 2010?
- How many chlordane advisories were there in 2009 and 2010?
- How many dioxin advisories were there in 2009 and 2010?
- How many DDT advisories were there in 2009 and 2010?
- Were advisories issued for any other contaminants?
- 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?
- Do states issue other consumption advisories?
- What about recent advice from EPA and FDA on mercury in fish?
- Where can I get more information about fish advisories?
What is a fish consumption 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.
What are the different types of fish advisories?
States typically issue four types of advisories and a commercial fishing ban to protect both the general population and specific sensitive populations.
- No-consumption advisory for the general population – Issued when levels of chemical contamination in fish or wildlife pose a health risk to the general public. The general population is advised to avoid eating certain types of locally caught fish or wildlife.
- No-consumption advisory for sensitive populations – Issued when contaminant levels in fish or wildlife pose a health risk to sensitive populations (such as children and pregnant women). Sensitive populations are advised to avoid eating certain types of locally caught fish or wildlife.
- Restricted-consumption advisory for the general population – Issued when contaminant levels in fish or wildlife may pose a health risk if too much fish or wildlife is consumed. The general population is advised to limit eating certain types of locally caught fish or wildlife.
- Restricted-consumption advisory for sensitive populations – Issued when contaminant levels in fish or wildlife may pose a health risk if too much fish or wildlife is consumed. Sensitive populations are advised to limit eating certain types of locally caught fish or wildlife.
- Commercial fishing ban – Issued when high levels of contamination are found in fish caught for commercial purposes. These bans prohibit the commercial harvest and sale of fish and shellfish from a designated water body.
In 2010 there were 4,146 advisories active for the general population in 55 states/territories/tribes, and there were 3,439 advisories active for sensitive subpopulations in 47 states. Advisories often include separate detailed recommendations for both population types, which is why those numbers add up to more than the 4,598 total advisories active in 2010.
What is the National Listing of Fish Advisories (NLFA)?
The NLFA is a database that contains information about the species and size of fish under advisory, the chemical contaminants causing the advisory, the location of the water body, and the population for whom the advisory was issued. The NLFA also includes data on the concentrations of contaminants in fish tissue for 49 states/territories/tribes. Through this website, the user can generate national, regional, and state maps that summarize advisory information.
What kind of information is included in the National Listing of Fish Advisories?
The NLFA 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, territory, and tribe advisory program contacts and websites.
Does EPA analyze this data or does EPA require that the data be gathered in a specific way?
No. The EPA simply provides a central 'one-stop' repository as a service to and convenience for the public. The EPA has issued guidance to assist states in developing methods of monitoring, gathering and assessing information about their fish populations. Since this information is only guidance, use by states is not mandatory. The States have primary responsibility for monitoring, assessing and making advisory decisions. Thus the basis for each State fish advisory varies.
Can EPA draw conclusions or identify trends from this National Listing?
No. The 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. Consequently, the information is highly variable and makes it difficult to draw conclusions or trends.
How many advisories were there in 2009?
The total number of advisories increased by 93 between 2008 and 2009, bringing the total number of active advisories from 4,249 in 2008 to 4,342 in 2009. Approximately 17.6 million lake acres and 1.3 million river miles were under advisory in 2009, representing 42 percent of the nation’s total lake acreage and 36 percent of the nation’s total river miles. From 2008 to 2009, the number of lake acres under advisory decreased by almost 3 percent, and the number of river miles decreased by 8 percent.
How many advisories were there in 2010?
The EPA 2010 National Listing of Fish Advisories indicates that the number of advisories increased by 256 in 2010, bringing the total number of advisories in effect from 4,342 in 2009 to 4,598 in 2010. Approximately 17.7 million lake acres and 1.3 million river miles were under advisory in 2010, representing 42 percent of the nation’s total lake acreage and 36 percent of the nation’s total river miles. From 2009 to 2010, the number of lake acres under advisory increased by 0.7 percent, and the number of river miles increased by 0.1 percent.
What is a statewide advisory?
A statewide advisory is issued to warn the public of potential contamination of certain types of fish in specific types of water bodies across the state, resulting in designation of all river miles and/or lake acres in the state as under advisory.
Which states have issued statewide advisories?
Please refer to Table 1.
Table 1. Summary of Statewide Advisories by Water Body Type and Year Issued
Coastal Waters (issued)
|Connecticut||Mercury (1996)||Mercury (1996)||PCBs (1993)|
|Delaware||Multiple Pollutants (2007)||Multiple Pollutants (2007)||Mercury, PCBs (2006), Multiple Pollutants (2007)|
|District of Columbia||PCBs (1993)||PCBs (1993)|
|Florida||Mercury (2002)||Mercury (2002)||Mercury (1993)|
|Idaho||Mercury (2008)||Mercury (2008)|
|Illinois||Mercury (2002)||Mercury (2002)|
|Indiana||Mercury (2004)||PCBs (1996), Mercury (2004)|
|Kentucky||Mercury (2000)||Mercury (2000)|
|Maine||Mercury (1994)||Mercury (1994)||Dioxins, Mercury, PCBs (1994)|
|Maryland||Mercury (2001), PCBs (2007)||Mercury (2004), PCBs (2007)||Mercury, PCBs (2009)|
|Massachusetts||Mercury (1996)||Mercury (1996)||PCBs, Mercury (1994)|
|Minnesota||Mercury, PCBs (1999)|
|Missouri|| Mercury (2001)
Chlordane and PCBs
| Mercury (2001)
Chlordane and PCBs
|Montana||Mercury (2003)||Mercury (2003)|
|New Hampshire||Mercury (1995)||Mercury (1995)||PCBs, Mercury, Dioxin (1994)|
|New Jersey||Mercury (1995)||Mercury (1995)||PCBs, Dioxins (1993)|
|New York||Multiple Pollutants (1994)||Multiple Pollutants (1994)||Cadmium, PCBs, Multiple pollutants (1995)|
|North Carolina||Mercury (2006)||Mercury (2006)||Mercury (2000)|
|North Dakota||Mercury (2001)||Mercury (2001)|
|Ohio||Mercury (1997)||Mercury (1997)|
|Oklahoma||Mercury (2005)||Mercury (2005)|
|Oregon||Mercury (2008, RESCINDED in 2009)||Mercury (2008, RESCINDED in 2009)|
|Pennsylvania||Not specific (2001)||Not specific (2001)|
|Rhode Island||Mercury (2002)||Mercury (2002)||PCBs, Mercury (1993)|
|South Carolina||Mercury (2001)|
|Vermont||Mercury (1995)||Mercury (1995)|
|Washington||Mercury (2003)||Mercury (2003)|
|West Virginia||Mercury (2005)||Mercury (2005)|
|Wisconsin||Mercury (2000)||Mercury (2000)|
|Wyoming||Mercury (2008)||Mercury (2008)||
|* Hawaii has a statewide advisory for mercury in marine fish.|
Are there any fish advisories in the Great Lakes?
Yes. All (100 percent) of the Great Lakes and their connecting waters were under advisory for at least one contaminant in 2009 and 2010 (Table 2). The Great Lakes and their connecting waters are considered separately from other waters and are not included in the calculations of total lake acres or river miles.
|Table 2. Fish Advisories Issued for the Great Lakes|
Are there any fish advisories in the Chesapeake?
Yes. The main stem of the Chesapeake Bay is under advisory. The Potomac, James, Back, Anacostia, Piankatank, and Patapsco rivers that connect to the Chesapeake Bay continue to be under advisory. Baltimore Harbor, which also connects to the Chesapeake Bay, is under advisory for chlorinated pesticides and PCB contamination in fish and blue crabs. Delaware Bay, portions of the upper bay of New York Harbor, Long Island Sound and Puget Sound are also all under advisory.
Are there any fish advisories at the beach?
Yes. Eighteen states have issued fish advisories for all of their coastal waters, and Hawaii has an advisory for mercury in several species of marine fish (Table 1). The Atlantic coast advisories have been issued for a wide variety of chemical contaminants including mercury, PCBs, dioxins, and cadmium. All of the Gulf coast advisories have been issued for mercury. Of the Pacific coast states, only Alaska has issued a statewide advisory for coastal waters, although several local areas along the conterminous Pacific coast and in Guam and American Samoa are under advisory.
Do the states tell us where it is safe to eat fish without restrictions?
Yes. The EPA encourages states to issue safe eating guidelines when providing advisory information to inform the public that certain species of fish from specific bodies of water have been tested and have been shown to contain very low levels of contaminants. The states help promote recreational fishing by identifying monitored waters where designated fish are safe to eat without consumption restrictions.
The total number of safe eating guidelines increased from 874 in 2008 to 908 in 2010 (Table 3). In 2010, safe eating guidelines were in effect in 21 states, covering approximately 53,230 river miles (2 percent of the national total) and 2.5 million lake acres (9 percent of the national total). These river-mile and lake-acre figures represent decreases of 497 river miles and about 200,000 lake acres since 2008. Although several states issued a total of 83 new guidelines between 2008 and 2010, the overall geographic area covered by guidelines decreased because two states (Arkansas and Missouri) changed their safe eating guidelines into restrictive consumption advisories.
Table 3. States with Safe Eating Guidelines in effect in 2010.
Please note: States not listed in this table did not have Safe Eating Guidelines in effect in 2010.
Number of Safe Eating Guidelines (2010)
Which contaminants cause most fish advisories?
Although there are advisories in the United States for 33 different chemical contaminants, 98 percent of all advisories in effect in 2010 involved the following five bioaccumulative chemical contaminants: mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlordane, dioxins, and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT).
Why are some contaminants found at such high concentrations in some fish?
Bioaccumulative chemical contaminants accumulate in the tissues of aquatic organisms at concentrations many times higher than concentrations in the water. These contaminants can persist for relatively long periods in sediments, where bottom-dwelling organisms that are low in the food chain can accumulate them and pass them up the food chain to larger predator fish. Concentrations of bioaccumulative contaminants in the tissues of aquatic organisms may increase at each level of the food chain. As a result, top predators in a food chain (e.g., largemouth bass or walleye) may have concentrations of bioaccumulative contaminants in their tissues that are a significantly higher than the concentrations found in the water.
How many mercury advisories were there in 2009 and 2010?
The total number of advisories for mercury increased from 3,361 in 2008 to 3,449 in 2009 and 3,710 in 2010. Eighty-one percent of all advisories have been issued, at least in part, because of mercury. In 2009, approximately 16.3 million lake acres and 1.14 million river miles were under advisory for mercury. This represents a decrease from 2008 of 3% for lake acres and 9% for river miles. In 2010, these numbers increased slightly to 16.4 million lake acres and 1.14 million river miles. This represents an increase from 2009 of 1.1 percent for lake acres and 0.2 percent for river miles under advisory for mercury. As of 2010, 25 states have statewide advisories for mercury in freshwater lakes and/or rivers. Sixteen states have statewide fish advisories for mercury in their coastal waters (see Table 1).
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.
What steps is EPA taking to reduce the mercury levels in fish, the leading cause of fish advisories?
The EPA issues regulations that require industry to reduce mercury releases to air and water and to properly dispose of mercury wastes. The 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. The 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.
How many PCBs advisories were there in 2009 and 2010?
The number of advisories for PCBs increased from 1,025 in 2008 to 1,062 in 2009 and then to 1,084 in 2010. In 2008, there were 6 million lake acres and 130,372 river miles under advisory for PCBs. Those numbers increased slightly to 6.1 million lake acres and 130,850 river miles in 2009, and then to 6.1 million lake acres and 131,224 river miles in 2010. The size of waters under advisory increased less than 1 percent for both lake acres and river miles from 2008 to 2010. As of 2010, four states have statewide freshwater (river and/or lake) advisories for PCBs, and nine states have PCB advisories for all of their coastal marine waters (see Table 1).
Table 4. Change in size of waters under PCB advisories, by state, 2008-2010
|STATE||Change from 2008 to 2010 (river miles)||Change from 2008 to 2010 (lake acres)|
How many chlordane advisories were there in 2009 and 2010?
All uses of the pesticide chlordane were banned in the United States in 1988, and the compound continues to degrade in the environment. Fish advisories for chlordane declined from 67 in 2008 to 60 in 2010. In 2009, 842,863 lake acres and 53,960 river miles were under advisory for chlordane. In 2010, chlordane advisories covered 824,290 lake acres and 53,893 river miles, which represent decreases of 2 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively, from 2008. Tennessee and Nebraska issued new advisories for chlordane in 2010, while California, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas each rescinded consumption advice for chlordane between 2008 and 2010 (Table 5).
Table 5. Change in size of waters under chlordane advisories, by state, 2008-2010
|STATE||Change from 2008 to 2010 (river miles)||Change from 2008 to 2010 (lake acres)|
* Please note: Because NY has a statewide advisory for chlordane, the rescinded advisory for 13 acres is not reflected in the changes from 2008 to 2010, as all miles and all acres remained under advisory for chlordane in 2010.
How many dioxin advisories were there in 2009 and 2010?
The number of dioxin advisories remained at 123 in 2008 and 2009, and then rose to 128 in 2010. In 2009 there were 35,400 lake acres and 2,097 river miles under advisory for dioxin. In 2010, there were 35,400 lake acres and 2,333 river miles under advisory for dioxin, representing no change in lake acres and a 13 percent increase in river miles under advisory since 2008. Several dioxin advisories were issued in 2009 and 2010 (Table 6). New York, Texas, and Virginia all added dioxin advisories for rivers, while Washington rescinded a dioxin advisory on the Lower Budd Inlet estuary near the Cascade Pole Superfund site. The geographic extent of dioxin advisories is extremely limited compared to that for the other four major contaminants, due in part to the locations of facilities that release dioxin and the high costs of laboratory analysis for dioxin.
Table 6. Change in size of waters under dioxin advisories, by state, 2008-2010
|STATE||Change from 2008 to 2010 (river miles)||Change from 2008 to 2010 (lake acres)|
How many DDT advisories were there in 2009 and 2010?
The use of DDT, an organochlorine pesticide, has been banned in the United States since 1975. The total number of DDT advisories decreased from 76 in 2008 to 61 in 2009 and to 58 in 2010. In 2009, there were 876,470 lake acres and 69,034 river miles under advisory for DDT. In 2010 there were 876,470 lake acres and 68,884 river miles under advisory for DDT. Lake acres and river miles under advisory for DDT both decreased by less than 1 percent from 2008 to 2010. California issued a new advisory for DDT in 2009 for coastal waters between Santa Monica and Seal Beach, where the nation’s largest DDT manufacturer operated from the 1940s to the 1970s. California, New York, Oklahoma, and Washington all rescinded freshwater advisories for DDT in 2009 and 2010.
Were advisories issued for any other contaminants?
Yes. Although the five bioaccumulative contaminant groups contribute to 98 percent of the total number of advisories, seven percent of all fish advisories are listed for other contaminants (in some cases these waterbodies are also listed for one of the top five contaminant groups). Other contaminants include organochlorine pesticides (e.g., dieldrin, mirex, toxaphene), heavy metals (e.g., arsenic, cadmium, lead), and a myriad of other chemical compounds, including creosote, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and hexachlorobenzene. California, Nebraska, and Michigan all issued advisories for selenium in the past two years, while Minnesota and Wisconsin each issued new advisories for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a key ingredient in stain repellants that has been largely phased out of use in the United States in recent years. In 2009, approximately 2.6 million lake acres and 243,586 river miles were estimated to be under advisory for other contaminants; those numbers decreased slightly to 2.5 million lake acres and 243,282 river miles in 2010.
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 water body may be issued for more than one pollutant (e.g., both mercury and PCBs). When calculating the total number of advisories in the United States, the EPA counts a water body as one advisory, regardless of the number of contaminants or fish species that are included in the advisory. If the advisory applies to a specific contaminant, then it is counted in the total number of advisories for that contaminant. Therefore, when a water body 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 United States for a given year.
Do states issue other consumption advisories?
In addition to advisories for fish, the EPA’s NLFA website contains several water-dependent wildlife advisories. In 2010, five states had a total of 6 wildlife advisories in effect, representing no change in wildlife advisories since 2008. New York had a statewide advisory for waterfowl, and Maine had a statewide advisory for moose liver and kidney. Massachusetts and Rhode Island had specific water body advisories for frogs and/or turtles, while Utah had two advisories for ducks. Due to very limited information which is often managed separately from fish advisories, the EPA does not plan to continue collecting data on wildlife advisories.
What about recent advice from EPA and FDA on mercury in fish?
In 2004, the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued advice concerning mercury in fish for women who might become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children. This advice is unchanged.
For more information about the ways to reduce mercury exposure, consult the EPA’s brochure, What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish, which is available in several languages.
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 advisories website. 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 2010 National Listing of Fish Advisories, see our Technical Fact Sheet.