Study shows higher mercury levels in some Treasure Coast fish eaters

Two year study by Harbor Branch

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. - Jonathan Hill is set for an afternoon of fishing in the Indian River Lagoon.

He usually eats what he catches.

"If the meat looks good, I'm cooking it at 450 degrees for an hour and we're eating good," said Hill as he showed off his wide variety of fishing poles.

But researchers are reminding fishermen to use common sense.

Adam Schaefer holds up a test tube with a sample of dolphin skin.

Schaefer is an epidemiologist at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

He just finished a study connecting local fish consumption and mercury levels.

Over a two year period, Schaefer collected hair samples from 135 residents who ate seafood regularly from the Indian River Lagoon.

"Individuals who ate seafood three times a week or more, particularly that which came from the Indian River Lagoon or surrounding area, had the highest mercury concentrations," said Schaefer.

Schaefer began his work after studies showed high levels of mercury in local dolphins.  He says this information can be used to help reduce exposure in high risk groups, like pregnant women.

"The primary effects of mercury exposure are neuro-developmental on the fetus or in young children," said Schaefer.

For longtime fishermen like Denny Wong, the study is informative, but not alarming.

"This area where we fish, the fish are always healthy and very clean," said Wong as he cast his line near the Fort Pierce jetty.

Researchers say the key to staying healthy is eating the right fish and the right amount.

Click here for the Florida Department of Health's guide on recommended fish consumption.

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