Fish can be highly nutritious. It’s a source of omega-three fatty acids that help keep our hearts healthy and provide a host of other benefits. But some larger fish like bluefish can build up dangerous levels of mercury, an element that can damage human health, including that of unborn babies.

Most mercury pollution comes from coal-burning power plant emissions, which are carried in the wind and then fall into the ocean when it rains. The mercury can then travel up the food chain from tiny organisms to big fish, and finally into people.

But mercury pollution regulations in the U.S. seem to be helping. Richard Barber, professor emeritus at Duke University, found that bluefish caught off the coast of North Carolina have 43 percent less mercury in their bodies than they did 40 years ago.

BARBER: “We’re improving health for two reasons: mercury’s going down, and fish consumption is going up. That’s a good story for everyone to know about. But the story’s not over, it’s in fact unfolding right now.”

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Barber cautions that mercury respects no borders, and global emissions are on the rise. So recent progress could be reversed if better controls are not implemented around the world – particularly in Asia.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media/Evan Lowenstein.
Photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Success story: Cleaner bluefish show effectiveness of US coal regulations, study says
Decadal declines of mercury in adult bluefish (1972-2011) from the Mid-Atlantic Coast of the U.S.A.

Bruce Lieberman

Bruce Lieberman, a long-time journalist, has covered climate change science, policy, and politics for nearly two decades. A newspaper reporter for 20 years, Bruce worked for The San Diego Union-Tribune...