The purpose of this study was to compare fish intake and plasma phospholipid concentrations of n-3 fatty acids, in particular of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), among representative population samples of Québecers, James Bay Cree, and Inuit of Nunavik (Canada). The relationships between these concentrations and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors were also investigated and compared in the three populations. In 1990-1992, the study subjects had participated in the extensive Santé Québec health surveys conducted in southern Québec, James Bay, and Nunavik. Significant differences in levels of CVD risk factors were found among these three populations. Globally, Inuit showed the lowest risk status for CVD compared with Cree and Québecers, despite the high prevalence of cigarette smoking and obesity. Daily fish intakes varied significantly among the three groups, averaging 13, 60, and 131 g for Québecers, Cree, and Inuit, respectively. Concentrations of EPA + DHA in plasma phospholipids were highest among Inuit (8.0%), second-highest among Cree (3.9%), and lowest among Québecers (1.8%). When the three populations were grouped together, there was a positive association between concentrations of EPA + DHA stratified into quartiles and HDL cholesterol, with a significant relation in quartile 4 (EPA + DHA > or = 4.04%). An inverse relation was also found between EPA + DHA and triacylglycerols in quartile 4. Our results indicate that increased consumption of fish as a source of n-3 fatty acids is beneficially associated with levels of HDL cholesterol and triacylglycerols.