Northern peoples face a difficult decision of whether or not to consume wild fish, which may contain dangerous levels of contaminants such as methylmercury (MeHg), but which also offer a number of positive health benefits, and play an important role in rural household economies. Here, new methods for developing consumption advice are applied to an existing data-set for methylmercury (MeHg) levels in Alaskan fish. We apply a quantitative risk-benefit analysis for eight freshwater, saltwater and anadromous fish species, using dose-response relationships to weigh the risks of MeHg bioaccumulation against the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) toward cardiovascular and neurodevelopmental health endpoints. Findings suggests that consumption of many of the fish species reviewed here, including northern pike, Pacific Halibut, and arctic grayling, may lead to increased risk of coronary heart disease and declines in infant visual recognition memory. However, we also identify significant variation among regions, among studies within the same region, and also within studies, which make it difficult to craft consistent consumption advice. Whereas salmon consistently shows a net-benefit, for instance, data for arctic grayling, pike, sablefish, and some halibut are all too imprecise to provide consistent recommendations. We argue for more detailed local-scale monitoring, and identification of possible thresholds for increased risk in the future. We caution that MeHg and omega-3 FA are just two variables in a complicated calculus for weighing the risks and benefits of locally-available and culturally-significant foods, and argue for future work that takes both a place-based and plate-based approach to diet and contamination. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.
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