Risks and benefits of consumption of Great Lakes fish

Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Jan;120(1):11-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003396. Epub 2011 Sep 23.


Background: Beneficial effects of fish consumption on early cognitive development and cardiovascular health have been attributed to the omega-3 fatty acids in fish and fish oils, but toxic chemicals in fish may adversely affect these health outcomes. Risk-benefit assessments of fish consumption have frequently focused on methylmercury and omega-3 fatty acids, not persistent pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls, and none have evaluated Great Lakes fish consumption.

Objectives: The risks and benefits of fish consumption have been established primarily for marine fish. Here, we examine whether sufficient data are available to evaluate the risks and benefits of eating freshwater fish from the Great Lakes.

Methods: We used a scoping review to integrate information from multiple state, provincial, and federal agency sources regarding the contaminants and omega-3 fatty acids in Great Lakes fish and fish consumers, consumption rates and fish consumption advisories, and health effects of contaminants and omega-3 fatty acids.

Data synthesis: Great Lakes fish contain persistent contaminants--many of which have documented adverse health effects--that accumulate in humans consuming them. In contrast, data are sparse on omega-3 fatty acids in the fish and their consumers. Moreover, few studies have documented the social and cultural benefits of Great Lakes fish consumption, particularly for subsistence fishers and native communities. At this time, federal and state/provincial governments provide fish consumption advisories based solely on risk.

Conclusions: Our knowledge of Great Lakes fish has critical gaps, particularly regarding the benefits of consumption. A risk-benefit analysis requires more information than is currently available on the concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in Great Lakes fish and their absorption by fish eaters in addition to more information on the social, cultural, and health consequences of changes in the amount of fish consumed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / analysis
  • Fishes*
  • Food Contamination / analysis
  • Great Lakes Region
  • Humans
  • Lakes / chemistry
  • Methylmercury Compounds / analysis
  • Methylmercury Compounds / toxicity
  • Risk Assessment
  • Seafood*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical