What’s on an angler’s plate?

By: Melissa Schneider / Published: Jun 16,  2006

Whether it’s redfish, flounder, speckled trout or another type of Gulf of Mexico fish, Coast fishermen really seem to love their seafood.

In fact, each year they eat twice as much seafood as the typical American, according to a recent survey studying the eating patterns of Gulf Coast saltwater anglers.

The survey polled 1,230 recreational fishers and people who eat fish caught by Gulf Coast anglers. The survey spanned the coastal counties in Mississippi (Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties) and in Alabama (Mobile and Baldwin counties).

Male anglers, on average, consume 32.6 pounds of recreationally caught fish, according to the survey. They eat twice the yearly 16.3-pound per-capita seafood-consumption rate reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s seafood-consumption rate includes fish, shrimp, oysters and other types of seafood, but it does not include recreationally caught fish. It is based on seafood bought and sold in the United States. The Gulf Coast anglers survey, which is sponsored by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, focuses only on caught finfish and does not include other types of seafood.

Females who participated in the survey reported that they consume only about half as much Gulf fish as the typical male angler. The women reported that they eat an average of 16.6 pounds of Gulf-caught fish per year, which also exceeds NOAA’s 16.3-pound per-capita consumption rate.

The Gulf Coast survey offers a look beyond restaurants, grocery stores and seafood plants by focusing on recreational anglers, whose seafood consumption patterns previously were undocumented.

“The importance of this study is that it is a population of people that was never studied before,” said J. Steven Picou, chair of sociology and anthropology at the University of South Alabama and leader of the project. “By knowing how much they eat, we may have an idea of what risks may occur and what benefits may occur.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid recommends that Americans eat more seafood because of its positive health benefits. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends eating fish that has low levels of methylmercury, a form of mercury that acts as a neurotoxin and can cause neurological problems, especially in children and unborn babies.

The FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended in 2004 that children and women of child bearing age eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) of seafood per week for a total consumption of 39 pounds a year. The FDA also says they should not consume shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish, because of high methylmercury levels. The Gulf Coast survey showed that 249 fishers, or 20 percent of those surveyed, eat an average of about 4.4 pounds of shark and/or king mackerel each year. Of the 15 species reported, the most popular fish species were flounder, followed by speckled trout, red snapper, redfish and white trout. Of the 1,230 survey respondents, 870 or 71 percent of them reported having eaten flounder in the past year. On average, recreational fishers consume more than 5.2 pounds of flounder per year.

When it comes to eating the most pounds of a fish species, fishers who ate mullet topped the list with 7.6 pounds per year. Those who ate speckled trout were second, averaging 5.6 pounds per year. And, fishers who ate flounder came in third, with an average of 5.23 pounds consumed per year. D. LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, said the survey builds a baseline of seafood consumption that previously did not exist. It will give nutritionists and doctors a new understanding of recreational anglers’ marine fish consumption patterns.

The study also will help shape nutrition programs and methylmercury-risk communications programs, he said.


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