Safety of oily fish during pregnancy

12 October, 2006. safefood has been monitoring press coverage in relation to recent research in the United States (US) on the consumption of oily fish during pregnancy and concerns over the levels of mercury and an association with premature birth.

This US research is clearly at an early stage and has established no causative link for the claims being made.

safefood has just carried out a comprehensive review of the finfish food chain on the island of Ireland. Research* showed that commonly consumed finfish from five ports around the Republic of Ireland found that mercury levels were much lower than current European Union safe limits and were not a cause for concern.

safefood continues to recommend that women of childbearing age, pregnant women or nursing mothers should include two portions of fish in their weekly diet, one of which should be oily such as salmon, mackerel or fresh tuna. These groups should also limit consumption of tuna to two fresh or four canned portions per week, in line with current health professional recommendations and avoid the consumption of swordfish, marlin & shark. In reality, the consumption of these latter species on the island of Ireland is extremely low.

safefood reiterates its recommendation that the health benefits to all consumers of a diet rich in fish, particularly oily varieties cannot be overemphasized and outweigh any inherent consumption risks. The healthy development of the central nervous system in babies and reduced risks of cardiovascular disease all benefit from a fish-rich diet.

Furthermore, the use of fish supplements by pregnant women as mentioned in press reports are not recommended unless prescribed, as these supplements can contain high levels of Vitamin A which can be harmful.

The safefood finfish consumer focussed review is available as both a summary document and full report on the safefood website


For further information please contact

Andrew Hyland or Sharon Murphy


Tel: 01 6690030

Fiona Gilligan


Tel: 01 4480060

* Tyrrell, L., McHugh, B., Glynn, D., Twomey, M., Joyce, E., Costello, J. and McGovern, E. (2005) Trace Metal Concentrations in Various Fish Species Landed at Selected Irish Ports, Marine Environment & Health Series No. 20.