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Lower Willamette Fish Advisory

FactsheetA news release describing the Lower Willamette fish advisory was issued on April 11, 2018, to alert the public about which fish to eat and which fish to avoid or to be careful about eating. While it’s important for people to know about contaminants in fish and shellfish to protect themselves and their families, it is equally important for everyone to eat a variety of fish from a variety of sources to gain important health benefits.

The Portland Harbor fish advisory issued by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) in 2004 has been updated. The update is a result of more recent data made available to OHA, and includes updated meal recommendations and an expansion of the advisory boundary. The summary factsheet, which explains the advisory, has been translated into several languages, and a list of frequently asked questions is provided below.

Resident Fish Consumption

Recommended maximum meals per month for resident fish:
black crappie 2 meals
Black Crappie - 2 meals per month (or 4 meals if fillet only)

carp zero meals
Carp - 0 meals per month

brown bullhead zero meals
Brown Bullhead - 0 meals per month

bass zero meals
Bass - 0 meals per month

Shellfish Consumption

Recommended maximum meals per month for shellfish:

crayfish 2 meals
Crayfish - 2 meals per month

mussels 7 meals
Mussels - 7 meals per month

clams zero meals
Clams - 0 meals per month


All other resident fish, such as walleye, should not be eaten. Resident fish live in the river their entire life and over time can accumulate levels of contaminants that are unhealthy. OHA recommends eating migratory fish like salmon, steelhead, shad and trout that spend most of their lives in the ocean, or in other tributaries connected to the Lower Willamette. This fish advisory does not include migratory fish.


Frequently Asked Questions

A fish consumption advisory is a guide to help people who eat fish make educated choices about eating fish caught in polluted water bodies.

A fish consumption advisory is not a rule or law. Fish consumption advisories provide recommendations to fish consumers to limit or avoid eating certain fish or shellfish because they have become contaminated with pollution. A fish consumption advisory provides advice to people about how much fish is safe to eat. An advisory generally seeks to consider the health risks from eating contaminated fish and the health benefits of eating fish.

Although the advisory is not a rule or law, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife law prohibits the harvesting or possession of shellfish from the Lower Willamette River (except for Tribes) and you can be fined by the Oregon State Police.

No. The updated fish advisory applies only to the Lower Willamette River. The boundaries for the 2018 fish consumption advisory for the Lower Willamette River include the Sellwood Bridge to the Columbia River. It also includes the Multnomah Channel to the Sauvie Island Bridge (see map). To see fish consumption advisories for other parts of the state, visit healthoregon.org/fishadv.​

Salmon or steelhead are the best options to eat. These fish don’t live their whole life in the Willamette River so they are less contaminated by pollution. For people who eat fish that live their whole life in the Willamette River, crappie is the best option. OHA’s fish advisory recommends that people do not eat smallmouth bass, carp, or brown bullhead (catfish).​

Some fish in some locations can be contaminated with harmful chemicals in the environment. In the Lower Willamette River, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in river soils are the chemicals of greatest concern. The amount of PCBs fish accumulate depends on several things, including what they eat, where they live, how fatty they are, and whether they regularly eat other contaminated fish. Crappie have reduced levels of contaminants because they do not live or eat near the river bottom and are less fatty than carp and catfish. They are also less likely than bass to eat other fish, so there is less accumulation of contaminants. Migratory fish like salmon and steelhead have less contaminants because they spend a limited time in this part of the river. OHA advises people to eat fish for its health benefits, but to choose wisely. Choosing the right resident fish to eat, like crappie, and migratory fish, like salmon, can provide a low fat, high protein, Omega 3 oil rich meal which is good for the heart and brain, while avoiding your exposure to contaminants. ​

The fish consumption advisory for the Portland Harbor was first issued in 2004. Since 2004, more fish tissue data has been collected and shared with OHA. Based on the new data collected, OHA has updated the meal recommendations and expanded the boundary of the 2004 advisory. ​

When cleanup starts for the Superfund site, the cleanup activities will disturb the contaminated mud and sediments where the pollution is. Because of this, OHA will recommend that NO resident fish or shellfish be eaten from the Lower Willamette River. OHA will update the advisory to 0 resident fish and shellfish until new data is available. Migratory fish such as salmon and steelhead will still be the best option. ​

The contaminants of greatest health concern in the fish in the Lower Willamette River are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury. Mercury and PCBs can affect the brain, central nervous system and other biological systems, particularly in small children and unborn babies. PCBs and mercury can interfere with brain development and cause lifelong learning disabilities. PCBs can also disrupt hormone and immune system function. PCBs can also increase lifetime risk of developing cancer.​

Yes. If you continue to eat resident fish from the Lower Willamette, we recommend that you choose wisely and eat fish that are lower in contaminants, such as crappie. Whether you eat crappie or other resident fish, we recommend not eating the whole fish. You can also reduce your exposure by following some easy cleaning tips:

  • Cut away the fat on the belly, back and along the side of the fish
  • Remove the skin
  • Throw away internal organs, head and tail

Note: These cleaning methods do not reduce your exposure to mercury found in the meat of fish and shellfish. Learn more about how to reduce your exposure to PCBs.

As part of the fish advisory process, OHA develops a technical report that explains the basis for the advisory and the calculated meal recommendations. For those who just want the facts, you should refer to the summary factsheets. If you want detailed information about the origin of the updated advisory, including; history, fish sampling numbers, contaminants of concern to people’s health, limitations of the sampling, and how the boundary was set, refer to the technical report provided. ​

 

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