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Eating Fish from Vieques Waters

Historical Reference
This website is provided by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) ONLY as an historical reference for the public health community. It is no longer being maintained and the data it contains may no longer be current and/or accurate.

Viequenses and scientists voiced concerns about mercury in fish taken from Vieques waters; therefore, our fish evaluation focused on this concern. We found that most fish taken from Vieques contained low to moderate levels of mercury. The mercury was found in the fish flesh and is probably from background levels of mercury throughout the region and not from past military activity on or near Vieques. We also found more mercury in grunts and hinds than in other Vieques reef fish.

What does this mean for Viequenses?

It means that certain women should limit the amount and types of fish they eat per week. ATSDR agrees with the U.S. EPA and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

  • Women who are pregnant, nursing, or planning to become pregnant should limit their weekly fish diet to no more than 12 ounces of those kinds of fish that have low or moderate mercury levels. Twelve ounces of fish is close in size to three decks of cards. If pregnant women eat more than 14 ounces a week of fish taken from Vieques waters, their children could have a small chance of problems later in life with language, attention, or memory—or to a lesser extent, problems with visual, spatial, and motor functions.
  • Children under seven could eat up to 4 ounces of fish or shellfish weekly with low or moderate levels of mercury. But if they eat more than 4 ounces a week, they could have a small chance of nervous system problems. The more fish children eat above this amount, the greater their chances are of nervous system problems. Four ounces of fish is about the same size as one deck of cards.
  • Due to the many nutritional benefits, women and young children should include in their diets fish or shellfish that are low in mercury.

Because of this, ATSDR recommends that scientists and environmental and public health agencies

  • Educate the Vieques community about the benefits of eating fish and about choosing types of fish known to be low in mercury,
  • Design and carry out a survey that asks what kinds, how often, and how much fish Viequenses eat,
  • Look at the survey results to decide whether more fish should be collected and tested for mercury, and
  • Continue the fishing restrictions around the Vieques former Live Impact Area (LIA) because of the danger from unexploded ordnance (also known as UXO).

Related Resources


An Evaluation of Environmental, Biological, and Health Data from the Isla of Vieques, Puerto Rico - March 2013

Summary Fact Sheets

2013 Fact Sheets of ATSDR’s Environmental Health Evaluation

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