This summer’s amazing story about a record, 873-pound bluefin tuna caught off the coast of Delaware by a recreational angler took an unfortunate twist Tuesday, when international ocean conservation group Oceana reported that toxic mercury in its flesh tested at 2.5 parts per million, making it two and a half times higher than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Action Level for commercial fish. This amount is also nearly twice the highest level of mercury ever found by the FDA in any fresh or frozen tuna steaks.
The fish made headlines for its size, which more than doubled the previous state bluefin tuna record of 322 pounds. Caught on July 2 by fisherman Dan Dillon of Herndon, Va., the fish measured 9 feet, 7 inches long, had a girth of 80 inches, and yielded more than 500 pounds of fillets. Mr. Dillon generously provided Oceana with a 5-pound frozen filet of the fish, which was tested for mercury at ACZ Laboratories in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
“Mr. Dillon has done more than catch a record-breaking fish, he has made an important contribution to our understanding of mercury levels in fish. Recreational anglers are on the front lines when it comes to mercury contamination since mercury can occur at very high levels in the fish they catch and eat,” said Jackie Savitz, director of Oceana’s Seafood Contamination Campaign. “This wake-up call for all of us is even more relevant now that the tuna industry and the FDA are preventing the facts on mercury from getting to the people that need them most: consumers.”
An FDA Action Level represents the limit at or above which the agency will take legal action to remove a product from the market. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that when mercury concentrations of more than 1.9 parts per million are found in fish, people should not eat more than four ounces per month. Those who have consumed more than that amount should simply cut back on future fish consumption. Bluefin tuna, while not commonly found on store shelves, is a popular item on sushi menus.
On Aug. 12, FDA Commission Lester Crawford advised California Attorney General Bill Lockyer that he opposes state efforts to require mercury warning labels on tuna in grocery stores, as California has been trying to do under Proposition 65, a law that requires supermarkets to provide warnings when their products expose shoppers to known contaminants, such as mercury.
Oceana’s Seafood Contamination Campaign seeks to inform the public about FDA advisories concerning mercury in fish, simply by asking supermarkets to post warning signs wherever fish covered by the FDA advisory is sold. The FDA advises women of child-bearing age and children not to eat swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish, and to limit consumption of albacore tuna to 6 oz. per week.
Oceana is also working to reduce mercury pollution at one of its primary sources: chlorine plants. Oceana has asked six chlorine manufacturing companies that continue to use mercury for chlorine production to convert to readily available, mercury-free technology which 90 percent of the industry already uses. Delaware City’s Oxychem plant, one of only nine U.S. plants that still use outdated and unnecessary mercury technology, is responsible for 75 percent of Delaware’s mercury emissions.
For more information about Oceana’s Seafood Contamination Campaign and its efforts to test recreationally-caught fish for mercury, visit www.oceana.org/mercury.