Fish Consumption Advisories

WHAT? I thought that it’s good for me to eat fish.
Generally speaking, eating fish is good for you. There are a lot of health benefits to eating a diet that contains fish. The protein and oils from safe fish are really great for brain and eye development of babies and children.Kidsfishing

Some people, like pregnant women and children, should be particularly careful about how much seafood they consume. When you go fishing on the Kansas River there are some things you should be careful about. The Friends of the Kaw, with help from the EPA, has prepared a brochure to summarize the information on this page.

Every year, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) issues a fish consumption advisory for the rivers and reservoirs in Kansas. Their recommendations cover pollutants like Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury, different types of fish, and the dangers to various groups of people. You should refer to this advisory for the details, but we will try to provide an overview of the issues here – Fisherman

KDHE recommends restricting consumption of bottom-feeding fish because of PCBs.

Bottom-feeding fish include carp, blue catfish, channel catfish, flathead catfish, freshwater drum, bullheads, sturgeons, buffalos, carpsuckers and other sucker species have been found to have high PCB levels.

Blue Catfish

Blue Catfish (bottom-feeder) © Joseph R. Tomelleri

Bottom feeding fish, like catfish, buffalo, carp, drum and sturgeon are more likely to have high levels of harmful chemicals like PCBs. These harmful chemicals are concentrated in the mud. Bottom feeding fish tend to collect more of these contaminants because they live on the bottom and they swallow a lot of mud with their food. Fatty or oily fish will tend to collect more contaminants like PCBs, Chlordane, pesticides and dioxin that are stored in fat.

Black Buffalo (bottom-feeder) © Joseph R. Tomelleri

Black Buffalo (bottom-feeder) © Joseph R. Tomelleri




There is also a national mercury advisory from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that recommends limits on eating locally caught fish.

Mercury comes from a number of sources, including coal burning power plants, and is deposited on the water surface where it is taken up by small plants and animals living in the water. Mercury becomes more concentrated as you go up the food chain, so the levels are highest in predatory fish like largemouth bass, and is highest in larger fish since they are older and have had more time to accumulate mercury.

Check out Mercury Rising: Enjoy Fish Without the Risk for information on what fish have the lowest mercury levels and are safe to eat.

Largemouth Bass (sight-feeder) © Joseph R. Tomelleri

Largemouth Bass (sight-feeder) © Joseph R. Tomelleri


Mercury is more of a problem in sight-feeding fish (predators) than in bottom-feeding fish, and it is more of a problem in lakes than in rivers. So while PCBs and Chlordane have triggered advisories for eating catfish and other bottom feeders in the Kansas River, mercury has triggered advisories for eating largemouth bass and other sight-feeders caught in lakes.

Should pregnant women and children stop eating all fish?

No. The protein and oils from safe fish are really great for brain and eye development of babies and children. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children under six years old, teenage girls and women who could become pregnant should avoid eating fish caught in areas with fish consumption advisories.

Why are pregnant women and children more sensitive to contaminants in fish?

Chemicals like PCBs and Chlordane are stored in your body for years. When a woman gets pregnant, the harmful chemicals stored in her body get passed on to her baby. Even when the chemical levels are too low to hurt the mother, her baby can be harmed. Babies grow very fast. These chemicals can be harmful to them either because they affect developing brains or because they harm immune systems. If you are pregnant or nursing, please consult your pediatrician if you are worried about the effects on your baby of eating contaminated fish. Children under six years old should not eat fish caught in areas with health advisories because their kidneys and livers are not as efficient as an adult’s. Since they aren’t as good at getting rid of the contaminants they eat, harmful chemicals get more concentrated in a small child’s body than they do in an adult. Their brains and bodies still have a lot of growing to do. So much is built upon this early growth that early damage can have lifelong effects on their health and abilities.

Which fish are safe for them to eat?

Pregnant women and children can eat fish caught where there are no fishing advisories. It’s still a good idea for them to avoid eating the most dangerous fish.

Fishing in KCK parkWhich fish should we avoid?

Really large fish tend to be more dangerous to eat because they are older. An old fish has had more time to collect more harmful chemicals. It’s better to eat younger, smaller fish.

Channel Catfish (bottom-feeder) © Joseph R. Tomelleri

Channel Catfish (bottom-feeder) © Joseph R. Tomelleri

How can you safely prepare fish?

Chlordane, PCBs and most of the harmful chemicals found in bottom-feeding fish from the Kansas River are stored in the fat of the fish. Properly trimming and cooking away the fatty tissues from your fish will cut down on the contaminants you eat;

  • Trim off the back fat
  • Trim off the fatty dark meat along the whole side of the fish
  • Trim off the belly fat Remove the skin
  • You can get rid of up to 65% of the pesticides by trimming the fish properly and broiling it to let the oils drip off
  • Discard the guts and the skin

You can find a picture of how to properly trim a catfish in our brochure in the attachment section of the bottom of this page.

Unfortunately you can’t reduce the amount of mercury in the fish you cook like you can PCBs and Chlordane. This is because mercury isn’t concentrated in fat. Mercury is spread throughout the fish and can’t be trimmed away. Mercury is a problem nationwide.

What can we do to help?

You can use the Sustainable Seafood Guide for the Central US (it includes freshwater fishes) when you go to the grocery store or a restaurant. Urge others to avoid fish and shellfish that are not sustainably harvested or that have dangerous levels of contaminants.

We must always remember that what we pour down the tap, dump in stormdrains, or spill on the ground can make its way into the river. Please do your part to reduce pollution and stormwater runoff.

This brochure was published by the Friends of the Kaw with funding from Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) Region 7.
Fish illustrations by Joe Tomelleri. Video by Mike Cuenca and Rich Ambler  and assisted by Laura Calwell . Photograph by Mike Cuenca.

You can read more about bottom-feeders and sight-feeders in “Fishes in Kansas” by Frank Cross and Joe Collins available online in the Biodiversity Heritage Library at