Sushi and Mercury

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

The other day I was working on some multilingual materials designed to increase awareness on the high levels of mercury in certain types of fish. My family likes to eat fish especially when we eat out. Given that fish is low in saturated fat and an excellent source of protein, I was not overly concerned. However, when I started to review the EPA-FDA fish advisories more closely, I saw the information from another perspective given our family’s eating habits.

First of all, we often go to a sushi restaurant near home. It’s one of the few restaurants we all agree upon. My three older daughters “of child-bearing age” all love to eat sushi and my youngest’s favorite dish is ikuradon, a bowl of rice topped with salmon roe. While I knew we were not regularly consuming fish in the high-mercury category—king mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish, the advisories do not make special reference to mercury levels in fish eggs. Exposure to mercury at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidney, lungs, and immune systems of people of all ages. Yet, fetuses, infants, and children are at a greater risk of impaired neurological development given the fact that their internal organs and systems are developing at full swing.

Was I subjecting my daughters, especially my youngest, to an unhealthy diet? I did some Web surfing to find specific info on mercury in fish eggs. Not much luck. I decided to consult one of my EPA colleagues who helped allay my concerns. I want to share the information with my fellow bloggers. I was happy to find out that fish eggs don’t have particularly high levels of mercury. In general, fully grown fish higher in the food chain are the prime suspects when it comes to bioaccumulative contaminants. Some of these contaminants like PCBs and DDT tend to settle in the fatty areas of the fish (like the liver), but mercury is found throughout the fish. Salmon fish roe, Ikura, (イクラ) in Japanese, shouldn’t be a problem. To be on the safe side, I’ll encourage her to eat more grilled salmon which she also enjoys. In the meantime, I’ll have some more wasabi and picked ginger. Arigato.