Mercury in Tuna - Protect yourself!


Two Federal agencies set standards for mercury recommendations. The FDA tests fish for mercury levels and the EPA deterimines mercury levels that are considered safe for women of childbearing age. 


To help you understand what you are eating and how much to eat, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has put together some useful tuna terminology. 


  • ALBACORE - Albacore tuna, if caught in US or BC waters, is one of the healthiest fish you can eat. This is due to the fact that it is caught when it is younger and therefore has had less time to build up high levels of mercury. However, Albacore imported from other countries is older and thus contains more mercury. Canned Albacore is always labeled "chunk white". American and Candadian albacore tuna can be bought online from Heritage Foods USA, Pacific Fleet, MaryLu Seafoods, Wild Planet, and Wild Pacific Seafood


  • CHUNK LIGHT - Chunk light is a blend of different species and often includes meat from high mercury Bigeye Tuna as well as less contaminated Yellowfin. Avoid this type of Tuna


  • CANNED LIGHT - The most common Canned Light is Skipjack or Yellowfin. It contians relatively low levels of mercury. However, women and children should avoid this type of Tuna as they still have enough mercury to deem them unsafe. 


  • MARKET NAMES - Bigeye and Yellowfin can go by the names Ahi, Maguro or Toro. Bluefin is often sold as Kuromaguro, Horse Mackerel, Atun de Aleta Azul, Hon Maguro and Toro. Tests found that sushi tuna had the highest mercury levels, regardless of species. Avoid this type of Tuna. 


BOTTOM LINE: Try to eat fish that are not preditors. The higher up the food chain, the higher the mercury level. 'Chunk light' tuna flesh is healthier in the can variety as it generally has 3 x less mercury than the white and other varieties. Limit this type of Tuna to 1-2 x /week for health


Is Salmon a risk for high mercury levels?

Levels of mercury and other trace metals in both wild and farmed salmon taken from Canadian waters were found to be well below those considered safe, a 2008 study showed.


Wild-caught Alaskan and Pacific Coast salmon together with Pacific scallops, shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels, herring, and anchovies are recommended for consumption several meals per week


Balancing the health benefits of farmed salmon with contaminant levels can be confusing. Here are a few points to keep in mind:


  • Keep eating salmon! Salmon is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids that provide well documented benefits for the heart and brain. Wild salmon is a great choice and farmed salmon is a good alternative.

  • Women of childbearing age and young children should continue to eat fish known to be low in contaminants.

  • The benefits far outweigh the risks.