Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment



What are “Safe Eating Guidelines?”

Chemicals in our environment can end up in the fish we eat.  OEHHA uses findings of chemical levels in fish to provide Safe Eating Guidelines for fish caught in California water bodies.  These guidelines help people choose fish that are safe to eat.

Why are there safe sating guidelines for San Francisco Bay fish and shellfish?

Fish from San Francisco Bay have been monitored for chemical contaminants every three years since 1994 when a pilot study was first conducted.  After the pilot study, OEHHA issued interim consumption guidelines for San Francisco Bay.  OEHHA is updating the advice using newer data, based on improved analytical methods and a protocol consistent with OEHHA’s other recent advisories.  The monitoring results showed that:

  • Sharks had high mercury levels.
  • Shiner perch had high levels of PCBs.
  • Striped bass and white sturgeon contained a mix of medium to high levels of mercury and PCBs.
  • Mercury and PCBs were lower in the fillet (muscle tissue) of other species tested, including brown rockfish, California halibut, Chinook (king) salmon, jacksmelt, red rock crab, and white croaker.

OEHHA used the information from the monitoring studies to decide how much fish and shellfish from San Francisco Bay is safe to eat.  The advice is shown in the “Guide to Eating San Francisco Bay Fish and Shellfish.”

Some bay fish species such as salmon, striped bass, and white sturgeon migrate between freshwater (in the Delta or rivers that empty into San Francisco Bay), the bay, and the ocean.  The safe eating guidelines also apply to these fish species caught in any of these water bodies.

How do chemicals such as mercury and PCBs get into fish and shellfish?

Chemicals enter water bodies, including San Francisco Bay, from spills, the air, or water runoff from land.

  • Mercury is a metal that comes from natural sources, mining, and air fallout from burning coal and other fuels.
  • PCBs are a group of man-made industrial chemicals.  They get in air and water from spills, leaks, and improper disposal of materials containing PCBs.

Chemicals enter fish through the food they eat.

What are the health concerns from eating fish with mercury or PCBs?

Too much methylmercury, the form of mercury in fish, can change how the brains of babies and children develop.  Mothers can pass this methylmercury to their babies during pregnancy.
High levels of PCBs can cause health problems in young children and adults.  Some forms of PCBs cause cancer in animal studies.  PCB can build up to very high levels in the skin and organs of fish.  That is why OEHHA recommends eating only the skinless fillet (meat) of fish.  OEHHA also recommends eating only the meat of crabs and avoiding the internal organs.

Should I continue eating fish and shellfish?

Yes!  Certain types of fish and shellfish from San Francisco Bay are safe to eat if you follow OEHHA’s guidelines.
Fish, in general, is:

  • An important part of a healthy well-balanced diet.  The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish each week.
  • A good source of protein, vitamins, and heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  It is important for pregnant women to eat fish because omega-3 fatty acids help the baby's brain develop.

What should I do to protect my health and my family’s?

  • Follow the advice in “A guide to eating San Francisco Bay fish and shellfish.”
  • Eat a variety of fish, especially those low in chemicals and high in omega-3s.
  • Eat smaller (younger) fish of legal size.
  • Eat only the skinless fillet or meat portion of fish and shellfish you catch.
  • Thoroughly cook the fish, allow the juice to drain away.
  • Read about Safe Eating Guidelines for other water bodies in California:
    • Fresh Water or Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklets from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, or
    • Call OEHHA at (916) 323-7319 or (510) 622-3170, or visit (click on “FISH”, then “Safe Eating Guidelines”)


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