Hawaii health officials investigate mercury in marlin jerky

Published: Oct. 19, 2011 at 2:25 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 19, 2011 at 3:01 AM HST
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Gary Gill
Gary Gill

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A study recently published in the Journal of Environmental Health found high levels of mercury in bags of marlin jerky from Hawaii. State health officials are investigating, but they don't want people to panic.

Bags of marlin jerky caught the eye of San Francisco physician Jane Hightower during her trips to Hawaii.

"In a year and a half time it went from obscurity to having its own rack at the major retail stores," said Hightower, a co-author of the study.

Hightower has spent years studying the potential health hazards of mercury in fish. She tested 75 marlin jerky samples purchased in stores and online from Hawaii retailers, and found levels that were above the federal recommended limits.

"You wanna keep your mercury concentration in a fish less than 1 and the marlin jerky was from .05 to over 28 (parts per million). The average was 5.5," explained Hightower.

"It is a concern and we'll be doing additional sampling of the jerky that is available in local markets and running lab samples to see in fact what those concentrations are," said Gary Gill, a deputy director for the Hawaii State Department of Health.

DOH distributes thousands of pamphlets each year with guidelines on fish consumption for pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children. Mercury can impact brain development and cause other health problems.

"Fish is a healthy food. It's good for you, and you should not stop eating fish," said Gill. "But you need to be careful, especially if you're a nursing mother or young child as to how much fish you eat and what kind of fish you eat."

Bigger fish at the top of the food chain, like marlin and swordfish, tend to have the highest mercury levels. Gill said the health department will likely revise and update its advisory about consuming fresh fish and dried fish.

"It's quite possible that the mercury that's naturally in fish is concentrated more in dried fish because about 80% of the weight of a typical fish is water," Gill said.

"I say healthwise the mercury levels that I got, and I had three other labs test it and confirm it, the mercury levels are just too high for consumers," said Hightower.

The study also tested dried ahi and salmon from California, but found no significant mercury levels.

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