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OHA Expands Health Advisory for Lower Willamette River Resident Fish

April 11, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore.—The Oregon Health Authority is updating an existing health advisory issued June 2004 for resident fish in the Portland Harbor area of the Lower Willamette River.

The advisory effectively expands the 2004 advisory for two reasons:

  • Fish and shellfish tissue data made available to OHA shows the level of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, found in resident species of the Lower Willamette River warrants updating meal recommendations.
  • Additional fish tissue data collected outside the Portland Harbor study area warrants expanding the boundary of the fish advisory.

The boundary now encompasses the Lower Willamette River from the Sellwood Bridge to its confluence with the Columbia, to include Multnomah Channel from its confluence with the Willamette to the Sauvie Island Bridge. The original advisory covered only the Portland Harbor study area from the mouth of the Columbia River to the Fremont Bridge.

The advisory affects bass, carp, brown bullhead, black crappie and all other resident fish, as well as crayfish, clams and mussels found within the Lower Willamette River. It is illegal for non-tribal members to harvest or possess any freshwater mussels or clams, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and non-tribal members who harvest or possess these shellfish can be subject to a fine by the Oregon State Police. Meal recommendations in this advisory for clams and mussels are provided for tribal use, and in the event these shellfish are harvested or possessed illegally.

“Our iconic salmon, steelhead and other migratory fish are fine,” said David Farrer, Ph.D., public health toxicologist at the OHA Public Health Division’s Environmental Public Health Section. “People still need to eat at least two meals of fish per week. We want people to know which fish are the healthiest to eat and which fish they need to be careful about.”

Resident fish live in the same area their entire life. Some, like bass, are long-lived top predators, eating other PCB-contaminated fish within the river. The longer they live, the more PCBs they accumulate. Other fish such as carp are bottom-feeders. PCBs can accumulate in these types of fish because they live and eat in areas where PCB concentrations tend to be elevated.

This advisory does not apply to migratory fish like salmon, steelhead and shad that spend most of their lives in other places beyond the Lower Willamette River, including the ocean. These and other migratory fish are considered a healthy choice when considering what fish to eat.

Advisories are issued when fish or shellfish tissue data collected and analyzed verify that the level of a contaminant—in this case, PCBs—is above Oregon’s established health-based screening value for that contaminant. Meal recommendations are then calculated using this data to help people better understand the amount of resident fish and shellfish they can safely eat in any one month. These meal recommendations are only for the portion of the Lower Willamette River described above.

Meal recommendations for resident fish and shellfish in the Lower Willamette

Fish Species

Mealsa per Month

Invertebrate Species

Mealsa per Month









Brown bullhead




Black crappie



All other resident fish


It is illegal to harvest or possess any freshwater mussels or clams and fines could be charged.

a A meal is about the size and thickness of your or your child’s hand, or 1 ounce of uncooked fish for every 20 pounds of body weight.

b This number is for whole body consumption. If only the fillet is eaten the meal recommendation is 4.

c Meal recommendations for clams and mussels are provided in the event these shellfish are harvested or possessed illegally, and for tribal member information. Tribes have reserved treaty rights to harvest.

People who eat too much resident fish and shellfish contaminated with PCBs can suffer negative health effects over time, such as damage to organs, the nervous system and the brain, leading to potential learning and behavior problems. Mothers can pass PCBs to their babies during pregnancy or in breast milk, so fetuses, babies and small children are most vulnerable to the health effects of PCBs. OHA recommends that pregnant and nursing women, and women of childbearing age (18 to 45) follow these meal recommendations closely. Anglers also should not give resident fish or shellfish to others unless the recipients are aware of the PCB contamination issue and understand the recommendations in this and other fish and shellfish advisories.

While it is important for people to know about contaminants in fish and shellfish to protect themselves and their families, it is equally important for everyone to eat a variety of fish from a variety of sources to gain important health benefits. Fish are an important part of a healthy diet, especially migratory fish like salmon, steelhead and shad that are low in contaminants. Fish are high in protein, low in fat, and rich in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s provide protection from heart disease and are an important brain food for adults, children and fetuses.

Consistent with other sediment clean-up sites like Portland Harbor, EPA and DEQ anticipate a temporary increase in contaminant concentrations in fish tissue once clean-up activities begin, and for some duration immediately following the clean-up phase. This is due to disturbance of contaminated sediment in the river. At that time, and until new resident fish and shellfish tissue is available, advisory meal recommendations will be updated to zero meals per month for all resident fish and shellfish species. This update will ensure the public, especially the most vulnerable populations, are as protected as possible when spikes in the amount of contaminants fish and shellfish are exposed to is predicted to occur.

Part of the Portland Harbor clean-up plan includes ongoing fish tissue sampling to monitor the recovery of the river. As the data from this monitoring becomes available, OHA will evaluate them and update the advisory meal allowances as warranted.

For a list of other areas and water bodies with existing fish advisories and recommended meal allowances, and to learn more about fish consumption and other fish-related topics, visit to learn more.

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Contact Info:
OHA External Relations,[email protected]