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NC Department of Health and Human Services

Walleye in Santeetlah and Fontana lakes high in mercury

Health officials advise limiting consumption of those fish from those lakes

Este pagina en espanolRelease Date: September 10, 2008
Contact: Carol Schriber, 919-733-9190

RALEIGH – Routine sampling of fish from lakes across the state has found high levels of mercury in walleye caught in Lake Santeetlah and Lake Fontana in western North Carolina. State public health officials are urging pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, and children under 15 to avoid eating those fish altogether, and urging others to limit their consumption of those fish to no more than one meal per week.

Over time, eating high-mercury fish can result in long-term health effects, especially for children and developing fetuses.

In people, mercury mostly affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, especially in unborn babies and young children. Prenatal mercury exposure can affect the way children think, learn and problem-solve later in life. Adverse health effects can also occur in adults at much higher doses.

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and is also released into air and water through industrial pollution. When mercury gets into water, it can be absorbed by aquatic organisms, which are then eaten by fish. The mercury can then build up in the fishes’ tissues. When people eat those fish, they also consume the mercury. The greater the amount of mercury and the longer the exposure, the more serious the human health effects are likely to be. Reducing or limiting dietary intake of mercury is an effective way to reduce potential exposure and adverse health effects.

While people should limit consumption of high-mercury fish, fish containing low but detectable mercury can be safely consumed. Women and children under 15 can eat up to two meals a week of low-mercury fish; others can eat up to four meals a week of fish that are low in mercury.

Low-mercury freshwater fish include bluegill sunfish, tilapia, and farm-raised catfish, trout and crayfish. Salmon (canned, fresh or frozen) is also low in mercury. Low-mercury saltwater fish include canned light (not albacore) tuna, black and red drum, cod, croaker, flounder, haddock, halibut, herring, jacksmelt, mahi-mahi, ocean perch, pollock, pompano, sheepshead, sea mullet (southern kingfish), spot, spotted sea trout (speckled trout), tripletail, whitefish and white grunt. Shellfish like shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, oysters and scallops are also lower in mercury, as are farm-raised fish. 

More information on the new health advice and related issues is on the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Fish Consumption Advisories website at, or call the N.C. Division of Public Health at 919-707-5900.



Updated: February 9, 2009