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posted on July 13, 2011 15:24

DATE: July 13, 2011

Tom Shanahan
Public Information Officer
(208) 334-0668

The Idaho Division of Public Health is issuing a mercury advisory for lake trout, also called mackinaw, in Payette Lake.  A sample of lake trout from Payette Lake found levels of mercury that are similar to levels found in commercial albacore tuna, which health officials recommend eating in limited quantities. 

Mercury can potentially harm developing fetuses and children, reducing their ability to learn. To protect children, Idaho Public Health is recommending that children under 15 years old and women who are pregnant, nursing, or considering pregnancy limit their meals of lake trout to two meals per month. All other people can safely eat seven meals a month of lake trout. Mercury is present in all fish to some degree so it is recommended that no other fish be eaten if the maximum recommended meals of lake trout are consumed. 

Testing of fish in the past showed higher levels of mercury in lake trout, but no advisory was issued because it was illegal to take lake trout from Payette Lake at that time. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game changed rules this year allowing licensed anglers on Payette Lake to legally catch and keep one lake trout per day that is up to 30 inches in length. 

While mercury is common in fish, public health experts want Idahoans to know that in general, eating fish is good for one’s health.  Fish are low in fat, high in protein and have many beneficial nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids.  The American Heart Association recommends that individuals eat 2-3 servings a week of fish, including shellfish, to improve their heart’s health.  To ensure you get the benefits of eating fish while limiting your exposure to mercury and other contaminants, Idaho Public Health recommends that you:  

  • Eat smaller, younger fish since they have less mercury and other contaminants.
  • Eat fewer fish that feed on other fish (bass, walleye, lake trout) since they will have higher levels of mercury than fish whose primary food is not other fish.
  • To reduce contaminants other than mercury, cut away the skin and fat before cooking.
  • Check the IDHW website ( and click on Fish Advisories for specific water body advisories and follow that guidance.
  • Rainbow trout are typically low in mercury and two meals a week can be safely eaten.
  • For a safe eating guide to store-bought fish, see the IDHW website ( and click on ‘Fish Advisories” and then click on “Safe Fish Eating Guidelines for Pregnant Women and Children”).

For more information, please call IDHW’s Environmental Health Education and Assessment Hotline at 1-866-240-3553