Department of Health

Key messages

  • Fish is an important part of a healthy diet.
  • Some varieties of fish (commercially sold or caught recreationally) may contain high levels of mercury.
  • Mercury can be harmful if too much of it is ingested.
  • Food Standards Australia New Zealand provide advice on the number of serves of commercially sold fish that people should eat.
  • In those locations in Victoria where recreationally caught fish are known to contain high levels of mercury, the Department of Health and Human Services provides location specific advice. If eating your own catch from the locations listed below, follow the advice provided.
  • In the absence of advice for recreationally caught fish for a particular location, continue to follow the Food Standards Australia New Zealand advice and eat fish from a wide range of sources.

Fish is an important part of a healthy diet providing many nutritional benefits for the pregnant women, young children and the general population. However, some varieties of fish (commercially sold or caught recreationally) may contain high levels of mercury.

Pregnant women and women planning pregnancy, and infants and young children should limit the number of servings they eat of fish containing high levels of mercury. This is because the developing brain of the unborn child and young children are sensitive to mercury exposure.

Mercury in fish

Fish are high in protein and other essential nutrients, low in saturated fat and contain omega-3 fatty acids. As part of a healthy diet, everyone is encouraged to eat two to three serves of fish per week.

People take in small amounts of mercury in their diet from eating fish. In most fish, the levels are very low. However, some varieties contain high levels of mercury due to their feeding habits or surrounding environment.

Commercially sold fish that may contain high levels of mercury include shark (flake), ray, swordfish, barramundi, gemfish, orange roughy, ling and southern bluefin tuna.

In freshwater environments containing mercury, some species of fish may contain high levels of mercury. This is more likely in fish that are predatory (eat other fish) and that live a long time in mercury-containing environments.

Limit intake of fish containing high levels of mercury

The developing brain is sensitive to the effects of high mercury exposure.

It is therefore important that pregnant women, women planning pregnancy and young children (up to six years of age) limit their weekly intake of fish varieties known to contain high levels of mercury.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand provides advice on the number of serves of different types of commercially sold fish (shark, ray, swordfish, barramundi, gemfish, orange roughy, ling and southern bluefin tuna) that can be safely consumed. This information is available on the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website.

Further information

See your local doctor if you or a member of your family have health concerns.

For general information about drinking water quality or the potential health effects of chemicals, contact the Environmental Health Program.

The Department of Environment Land Water and Planning and the Environment Protection Authority Victoria have contributed to the development of this advice.

Reviewed 03 December 2021

Health.vic

Contact details

Environmental Health Policy and Risk Management Unit

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