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NC Department of Health and Human Services
NC Division of Public Health
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Fish Consumption Advisories

How Are Fish Consumption Advisories Developed?

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (N.C. DHHS) issues fish consumption advisories for certain fish, lakes or rivers to protect the public from eating fish that could harm their health.

We typically receive requests for evaluations of fish tissue from:

  • the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as part of their routine monitoring of water quality and fish throughout the state,
  • local health departments that have a particular concern in their area, or
  • as a result of a public health evaluation of a toxic waste site.

Steps in a fish tissue evaluation:

Develop a sampling and analysis plan.  We design a plan or provide feedback on already developed plans to make sure that appropriate information is collected to make the best public health decisions.  We take into consideration the type of fish people catch and eat in the area, and the type of contamination that is known to be in the area.  We review the plans to make sure that:

  • the fish samples include the type of fish people eat,
  • enough fish are collected,
  • the fish are caught during the most appropriate time of the year,
  • the fish are collected from different levels of the food chain (trophic levels), and
  • the most appropriate analytical tests are used

Receive the data from the agency or lab that conducted the sample analysis.

Organize the data.  Review the data and perform quality control measures.  Organize the data for analysis and prepare it for risk assessment calculations.

Calculate ingestion exposures using N.C. DHHS standard exposure parameters.

Determine if a fish consumption advisory is necessary and calculate meal limits.

Communicate the results of the evaluation.  We communicate the results of the evaluation to the requesting party.  If the results of the evaluation warrant a fish consumption advisory, N.C. DHHS alerts the local health department(s) in the area of the advisory, issues a statewide press release and posts the advisory on our website.  The Wildlife Resources Commission includes a list of all advisories in their annual “N.C. Inland Fishing, Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest”.

Assist local health departments in the development of language for health education materials such as signs, flyers, and posters.

Methods:

  • Our fish consumption action levels are calculated using human health toxicity data and federal guidelines (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Environmental Protection Agency) and N.C. DHHS standard exposure parameters. 
  • We recommend that people conduct sampling following the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the DEQ guidance for fish consumption studies.
  • We require the fish samples to be analyzed using EPA’s approved methods.
  • We generally recommend collecting the fish samples in the late summer or fall.  This is when fish will typically have the maximum concentration of contaminants. 
  • We use standardized public health risk assessment protocols in the evaluation of the fish samples.