A Survey of High-frequency Fish Consumers in the USA

FishingPeople who catch and eat their own fish may consume contaminants exceeding health-based thresholds.

Exposure to contaminants in fish may be associated with adverse health outcomes even as fish consumption is generally considered beneficial. Risk assessments conducted to support regulatory analyses rely on quantitative fish consumption estimates. Here we report the results of a national survey of high-frequency fish consumers based on a survey population statistically representative of ~17.6 million U.S. individuals consuming three or more fish meals per week.

The survey was conducted during 2013 using an online survey instrument. Total fish consumption averaged 111 g/day from market, restaurant and self-caught sources. Depending on the season, the incidence of individuals reporting consumption of self-caught species ranged between 10–12% of our high-frequency fish consuming demographic, averaging approximately 30 g/day and comprising 23% of total fish consumption from all sources of fish.

Recreational or self-caught consumption rates vary regionally and are poorly understood, particularly for high-frequency consumers, making it difficult to support national-scale assessments. A divergence between sport-fishing and harvesting of fish as a food staple is apparent in survey results given differences in consumption patterns with income and education. Highest consumption rates were reported for low income respondents more likely to harvest fish as a food staple. By contrast, the incidence of self-caught fish consumption was higher with income and education although overall consumption rates were lower.

Regional differences were evident, with respondents from the East-South Central and New England regions reporting lowest consumption rates from self-caught fish and those from Mountain, Pacific and Mid-Atlantic regions reporting highest rates. Respondent-specific consumption rates together with national-level data on fish tissue concentrations of PCBs, MeHg, and PFOS suggest that 10–58% of respondents reporting self-caught fish consumption are exposed to concentrations of these contaminants that exceed threshold levels for health effects. 

The results of this nationwide survey of high-frequency fish consumers highlights regional and demographic differences in self-caught and total fish consumption useful for policy analysis with implications for distributional differences in potential health impacts in the context of both contaminant exposures as well as protective effects.

Read the study online 


October 2017

Environmental Research Letters

Katherine von Stackelberg, Miling Li, Elsie Sunderland

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