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Publication #FAR8718

Methylmercury in Fish and Shellfish: Special Care for Women and Young Children1

Amarat Simonne2

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Planning a family is a special time for everyone, and expectant and new parents are faced with many decisions about what foods to eat during pregnancy or to put on the table for their young children. In recent years, a number of advisories have been issued about mercury in fish that may lead parents to eliminate fish from their family's diet. Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and is also released from industrial pollution. After it rains, mercury accumulates in streams and oceans. Bacteria in the water cause it to change into the form of mercury that can be easily absorbed by fish that feed in these waters.

Research shows that for most people, eating fish does not cause a health concern, but high levels of mercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the development of their nervous system.

To protect your family, consider the following guidelines. Child-bearing-age women and young children should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish because these fish have high levels of mercury. Seafood such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish are lower in mercury, but should be limited to 12 ounces per week. If your family enjoys fishing and keeps the catch for consumption, check local advisories about the safety in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, you should limit yourself to six ounces of fish from local waters per week (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2004). For more information on this subject, go to

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United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2004). What you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish. Retrieved March 2, 2007, from



This document is FAR8718, oone of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Broadcast as program 431. Published October 2010. Reviewed January 2015. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Amarat Simonne, associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.