Some chemicals, including mercury and PCBs, are widespread in our environment and can build up in certain kinds of fish. Eating these fish may present a health risk, especially for children and people who rely on the fish as a main source of food. The “Stop, Check, Enjoy!” campaign aims to help people avoid these contaminants by choosing to eat safer types of fish.
The information here may be useful for local health departments, government agencies, and non-profit organizations (NGOs) who work with subsistence fish consumers—but anyone who catches and eats fish can use them!
Explore the following pages for general information about eating safer fish. We also provide educational resources for those interested in hosting their own training session or outreach event for vulnerable groups in a community.
Eating safer fish
Fish provide many dietary benefits as a source of lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other essential nutrients. However, some types of fish can also be sources of harmful contaminants.
This page contains more info on safer alternatives when eating fish and ways to reduce exposure when preparing a meal. Learn more
Common contaminants & health impacts
The health impacts of eating fish with harmful levels of contaminants will depend on the type of contaminant in the fish, how much fish is consumed, and also the age of the person who is exposed to the contaminants. Children and babies are especially vulnerable because their bodies are still developing.
Local subsistence fishermen and their families who regularly eat fish also have a higher risk of health impacts from contaminants in fish because they may eat more of these contaminants than other people. This is also an environmental justice concern because people of color and/or people from lower income groups are more likely to rely on locally caught fish as a primary food source. Learn more
Community health education materials
Are you a community health professional or local organization interested in conducting a safe fish consumption training or outreach campaign in your community? The resources on this page can help you prepare. Learn more
Fish consumption advisory process
You cannot tell whether a fish is contaminated just by how they look or taste.
Lab tests are needed to know the concentrations of contaminants in fish. State health departments use fish tissue tests to set “fish consumption advisories” that tell you how much and what type of fish caught from a certain lake or river are safe to eat. They are based on guidelines set by the US EPA. These advisories can help people choose safer types of fish to eat.
In North Carolina, there is a statewide advisory for mercury in all bodies of water. Women of childbearing age (age 15 to 44), pregnant women, nursing women, and children under 15 should not eat fish high in mercury. Learn more
Many fish species live in contaminated waters and their bodies may contain chemical contaminants that can be toxic to people. Eating fish that contain contaminants can cause these contaminants to build up in a person’s body. Eating contaminated fish for a long time can increase the risk of illness for adults, but may be especially risky for children and babies because their bodies are still developing.
Depending on the type and amount of contaminants, long-term exposure from eating some types of fish can increase the risk of illness, developmental issues, or, in some cases, cancer.
The educational resources on this website were created by the Duke Superfund Research Center, Cape Fear River Watch, and other institutional and community partners as part of a social marketing campaign aimed at subsistence fishing populations who fish in the Cape Fear River. The CEC was brought in to help facilitate an EPA Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving grant in 2016 that was created as a result of a coalition that had formed to stop a cement plant from adding additional toxic burden on the Cape Fear River.