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Mercury in New England

New England Fish Consumption Advisories

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Edible fish and shellfish species in New England waters can contain a variety of contaminants that may have adverse effects on human consumers. To protect the general public and sensitive segments of the population, state and local health and fishery authorities monitor a variety of popular species and publish health advisories.

Fish and shellfish can bioaccumulate contaminants from water, sediment and contaminated food sources (e.g., prey). Typical contaminants include pathogens (such as fecal coliform bacteria) and biotoxins (such as paralytic shellfish poison (PSP) from red tides) in molluscan shellfish; and chemicals such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), pesticides and dioxins in fish and shellfish (including lobsters and crabs). These contaminants are introduced into the aquatic and marine environments from stormwater, municipal and industrial discharges, urban and agricultural runoff and atmospheric deposition.

Shellfish areas open to harvesting may be closed for periods after rainfall or during seasons historically exhibiting elevated fecal coliform levels. In all states except Rhode Island, the local health or shellfish department should be consulted first for information on safe harvesting, as described below. (The only point of contact in Rhode Island is the Department of Environmental Management.) In the remaining states, the State marine fisheries agencies also can provide additional and state-wide information.

Although the EPA and the State environmental protection agencies have accomplished much in limiting discharges of the above list of contaminants, current and past discharges have contributed and still contribute to the reservoir of contaminants existing in our rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal environments.

EPA often receives phone inquiries from the public asking: "Is the fish or shellfish I just caught safe to eat." We usually refer such inquiries to the appropriate state agency or local authority that has jurisdiction over certain species and/or contaminants. Below are listed state agency web site information and phone numbers for each New England state. General information on fish advisories can found on the following EPA Fish Advisories webpage, which also has hyperlinks to each state and tribe. The state links for toxic contaminants on the latter page may be updated more frequently than this page and should be consulted for the most updated information. Further information on other EPA webpages include: shellfish and the EPA Contaminated Sediment Strategy.

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For chemical contamination and fish advisories, the Connecticut Department of Public Health has published a series of pamphlets on their webpage: Connecticut's Fish Consumption Advisory & the Safe Eating of Fish Caught in Connecticut. You may also contact the Hartford office at: (860) 509-7742. For bacterial/ PSP information on shellfish, contact your local Health Director or Shellfish Commission in your phone book. General information on recreational shellfishing can be found in the following Department of Agriculture's Recreational Shellfishing webpage or by contacting the Shellfish Sanitation Unit at the Bureau of Aquaculture & Laboratory, P.O. Box 97, Milford 06460 or (203) 874-0696.

Other contacts points at the Shellfish Sanitation Unit include:
Email: dept.agric@snet.net
Fax: 203.783.9976
Bureau Director: (203) 874-2855
Laboratory: (203) 874-3549
Shellfish Sanitation Unit: (203) 876-2437

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For chemical contamination and fish advisories, the Maine Department of Human Services, Bureau of Health has information on their website. They may be reached in their Augusta office at (207) 287-8061.

For information on local shellfish, contact the local health or shellfish officer. The Maine Department of Marine Resources oversees shellfish monitoring for both bacterial and PSP contamination. Use the "red tide" and "public health" buttons. You also may call their West Boothbay office at the Shellfish Sanitation Hotline:

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Environmental Assessment, also has information on chemical contamination. They may be reached in their Augusta office at (207) 287-7777.

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The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bureau of Environmental Health Assessments' website has a description of fish advisories for chemical contamination. You may call the Boston office at (617) 624-5757 for further information.

For shellfish, the local shellfish officer can provide information on local resources. The Massachusetts Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law Enforcement, Division of Marine Fisheries, publishes information on their Recreational Fishing - Salt Water Fishing Guide webpage and can provide information on bacterial and PSP closures.

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New Hampshire
NH Fish Consumption Guidelines are available from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

For questions about fish advisories contact the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Risk Assessment (800) 852-3345.

For routine questions like which shellfish beds are open, which shellfish beds are closed for red tide the DES Shellfish Program would be the best contact (603) 430-7900.

An additional contact for routine shellfish questions would be New Hampshire Fish & Game. Updated information is posted on the clam line (800-43-CLAMS; NH residents only).

New Hampshire Fish Advisory (PDF) (2 pp, 50 K, about PDF)

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Rhode Island
For chemical contamination and fish advisories, the Rhode Island Department of Health, Office of Food Protection, posts information on their website. Press the "Should I eat the fish I catch" button. You can contact them at (401) 222-2750 in their Providence office.

For shellfish information, call the Department of Environmental Management (Providence) at (800) 256-6500 or (401) 222-2900. The Department of Environmental Management publishes shellfish closure maps on its webpage.

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For questions regarding fish advisories contact the Vermont Department of Health, Fish Advisories or (802) 863-7598.

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