Mercury Levels in Fish on the Rise, Study Finds

Mercury Levels in Fish on the Rise, Study Finds

If you’re looking to avoid mercury levels in fish, consider passing on the yellowfin tuna: A new study points to a steady rise in mercury levels for the popular fish.

Air pollution, primarily from coal burning, is pointed to as a leading cause for the rising mercury levels.

The report, published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, found that mercury levels in yellowfin tuna have been rising at 3.8 percent annually since 1998.

“Evidence is piling up that the methyl mercury has an anthropogenic source,” University of Michigan eco-toxicologist Paul Drevnick, lead author of the study said in the Los Angeles Times. “It’s coming from mercury emissions that are falling into the ocean.”

According to the Times, “The levels found in yellowfin, a species that is not at the top of the food chain and could be considered a bellwether, are ‘concerning,'” study coauthor Carl Lamborg said to the Times.

“What this number is saying is that the amount of mercury in fish is getting higher and higher all the time, and if it keeps going like that, at some point, most every kind of fish is going to be potentially hazardous,” said Lamborg, who conducted the research while at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, and now is at UC Santa Cruz. “Where that point is, I don’t know.”

The researchers noted that while the mercury levels in fish are on the rise, it shouldn’t be a huge cause for concern, “they probably don’t outweigh the health benefits of a fish-enriched diet,” the Times explained.

But that recommendation veers slightly from California’s Proposition 65 ruling, which would require warnings on canned tuna if the mercury levels were pollution-based. The yellowfin tuna canning industry long argued that methylmercury was coming from the ocean itself, via ocean vents and other sources not manmade. The new data could be cause for the state to revisit the canned yellowfin’s status.

While pregnant and nursing women do best to avoid mercury levels in fish, the FDA and EPA are reportedly updating recommendations to include endorsements of small amounts of fish naturally low in mercury during pregnancy and breastfeeding to aid in fetal development.

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Tuna image via Shutterstock