Vital Choice seafood is very low in mercury
All of our fish are free of hazardous levels of mercury, for two reasons:
- We feature species that are inherently low in mercury: salmon, sablefish, sardines, scallops, prawns, and crab.
- We offer only younger, smaller (therefore, minimal-mercury) members of predatory species (halibut and albacore tuna).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was very conservative in setting the legal limit for mercury at 1 ppm (parts per million), which is 10 times lower than the very lowest level associated with mercury poisoning.
The minuscule amounts of mercury in our fish fall well below to very far below this conservative safety level.
We recommend that pregnant or nursing women, and parents of young children, read the joint EPA-FDA advisory for pregnant/nursing women and young children, the news report “Feds Advise Kids and Pregnant Women to Eat More Fish”, and our Healthy Mom & Baby page.
Mercury matters, but most seafood is very beneficial
Concerns about mercury in fish rest on understandable concerns, given the element's known risks.
But the benefits of almost all ocean fish are proven to far outweigh the rare risk of harm.
The form of mercury found in fish (methylmercury) harms the nervous system and brain because it attaches to selenium in the body.
Every molecule of methylmercury you consume makes one molecule of selenium unavailable to antioxidant enzymes that protect your brain against free radicals, and require this essential mineral to function.
Yet, children and adults who consume far more fish than Americans do show no signs of harm from mercury.
This appears to be because almost all ocean fish contain more selenium than mercury.
(You'll find links to more about selenium and seafood safety in the sidebar at right, titled “New science exposes most fish-mercury fears as baseless”.)
Shark, whale meat, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel are the few exceptions to the rule that ocean fish — but not most freshwater fish — contain more selenium than mercury. (Our Portuguese "chub" mackerel, which has very little mercury and ample selenium, is a different species from king mackerel.)
Pregnant or nursing women and women seeking to conceive should consult the joint EPA-FDA advisory for pregnant/nursing women and young children.
The two studies cited as evidence that seafood-rich diets can cause developmental harm involved children who either ate lots of shark (New Zealand) or lots of pilot whale (Faroe Islands).
Shark and pilot whale are highly unusual, in that both contain much more mercury than selenium — while pilot whale is also high in PCBs and other manmade industrial contaminants proven to impair brain development.
Despite the relatively high risks of eating shark or pilot whale frequently, the signs of developmental harm detected in chlidren who ate them routinely were (fortunately) very small and subtle.
[Note: Some people may be more vulnerable to harm due to genetic or other factors, which remain unknown. To date, there is no evidence that anyone needs to avoid the vast majority of ocean fish species sold in stores, which have more selenium than mercury.]
You may wish to read our summaries of major population studies that compared fish intake to child development and safety:
- Benefits of Fish to Kids Found to Outweigh Risks (Seychelles study)
- Findings Verify Safety and Value of Higher Maternal Fish Intake (ALSPAC study)
- FDA Analysis Supports More Fish for Moms and Kids, which covered the major studies — including the Faroe Islands and New Zealand research — published through 2008.
We highly recommend the Prairie Public Broadcasting documentary, “Fish, Mercury & Nutrition: The Net Effects”, which conveys the latest findings and features the leading scientific experts on these subjects.
And we recommend these articles by nutrition/health writer Chris Kresser, which accurately summarize the available evidence: “Is eating fish safe? A lot safer than not eating fish!” and “5 Reasons Why Concerns About Mercury in Fish Are Misguided”.
More data is needed on selenium/mercury ratios
Scientists who remain hesitant to adopt the Se-HBV measure as a reliable gauge to the safety of commercial fish species note that the ratio can vary within a species, depending on the catch location (Burger J et al. 2011).
That is likely true, and the lack of selenium/mercury data on some major commercial species must be remedied by testing samples from every species' harvest regions, regularly.
That said, all of the available evidence — including lab studies and large population studies from diverse seafood-loving countries — supports the safety and child-development value of nearly all seafood, except shark, whale, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel.