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Are Surf Perches Safe To Eat? Everything You Need To Know

Are Surf Perch Safe to Eat? Everything You Need To Know
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If you enjoy spending time angling just by the shore, you will likely have found at least a surfperch at the end of your line. These small fishes are common in the northeastern Pacific Ocean and a popular catch for shore anglers. However, if you are thinking of making an evening meal out of it, you should ensure they are safe to eat. 

Surf perches can be safely eaten twice a week by women between 18 and 45 years of age and children younger than 17. Depending on the area where the perches are fished, women above 46 years of age and men above 18 can eat these fish up to 7 servings a week (not combined with other fishes). 

There is a little more to know to cook a safe and tasty dinner out of your catch. Read on!

Pacific Surf Perch: An Overview

Surfperches Opens in a new tab.are common catches for shore anglers, especially in the northeastern Pacific OceanOpens in a new tab.. They are extremely popular along the West Coast, from Alaska to Baja, California. Often, anglers can catch these fish by casting their lines off beaches, shores, piers, and jetties.

If you have decided to enjoy a fishing trip trying to catch surfperchesOpens in a new tab., it is essential to pick the right location. Besides the geographical area, you will have to make sure that the water is as clean as possible.

Indeed, some types of surfperchesOpens in a new tab. (such as rubber lips) are filter feeders and can thrive in polluted water. However, this will lower the quality of your meal and represent a threat to your health.

For example, surf perches fished in Tomales Bay (Marin County) can be eaten by women older than 46 and men younger than 18 up to two times a week, but up to 7 times a week by other demographics. 

Oppositely, in San Diego Bay, all demographics are limited to eating perches twice a week maximum. And, in locations like San Francisco Bay, they are not safe to eat. You can find all the information by location hereOpens in a new tab..

If you have not caught one yourself, surfperches can be commonly found in fish markets along the West Coast throughout the year, especially in Asian stores and markets.

You are not likely to find these fish in fillets; rather, they are sold whole – sometimes scaled and gutted.

Often, the size of surfperches does not make them ideal for filleting. Indeed, while some types can reach a weight of 4lb (1.8kg), they are usually much smaller than this. Precisely, you are likely to find perches as small as 2lb (0.9kg).

Related articles:

How To Surf Fish For Surf Perch? Surf Perch Fishing 101Opens in a new tab.

Why Are Surf Perches Safe to Eat?

According to the studies published by OEHAAOpens in a new tab. in 2008 and 2011, the seven most common fish contaminants are:

  • ChlordaneOpens in a new tab. – chlorinated pesticides
  • DDTs
  • Dieldrin
  • Methylmercury
  • PCBs
  • Selenium
  • Toxaphene 

These contaminants are contained in the environment the fish swim in, the food they eat, and the sediments. Depending on how polluted a certain location is, the fish caught in that spot will be safer to it or less so. 

The report published by OEHHA estimates that the contaminants are not present in quantities so high to represent a health risk for healthier individuals. 

This is because these fish’ consumption would have to be above 32 grams per day to be harmful. 

The minimal risk involved in eating fish counterbalances the benefits of introducing this ingredient in your diet.  

Chemicals and Nutritional Facts

The released advisory about eating fish from California’s coastal areas specifies whether surf perches are safe to eat. The most common chemicals found in these fish are mercury and PCBs.

Fish and shellfish, especially those species at the top of the food chain such as marlin and tuna, concentrate mercury within their bodies. Mercury is a pollutant in many oceans and seas, and it is a highly toxic element. 

Depending on the fish product you are eating, and where you are getting it from, the piece of fish you have opted for might contain several types of heavy metals. However, mercury is one of the most commonly found ones in fish. 

In turn, mercury can bioaccumulate in humans, where the build-up continues. However, in humans, this metal can cause mercury poisoning in the consumer.

When it comes down to eating surf perches, another risk is caused by PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls. These are highly toxic industrial elements that create a substantial health risk for any consumer, independently of age and gender. 

However, young ones – including babies, young children, and fetuses – are part of the population portion subjected to the highest risk.

The consequences of consuming high quantities of this compound include potential developmental and neurological problems. 

Unlike other particles, PCBs are heavy and tend to accumulate at the bottom of bodies of water. Therefore, fish and species that are also bottom feeders can be particularly exposed to this risk.

Some kinds of perches are bottom feeders, so make sure you are fishing or sourcing them from clean waters!

However, in some coastal locations, these chemicals in the water and fish food are limited. Therefore, in most cases, you will be able to eat surf perches without worrying about chemicals. Naturally limiting consumption can be beneficial. 

Types of Surf Perches You Can Eat.

If you are fishing along the west coast, you will likely find surf perches just underneath piers or by the coast. Some of the most commonly fished types of surf perches you are likely to find at the end of your line include:

You can find out more about the characteristics that can help you distinguish a type of surfperch from another in this article released by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.Opens in a new tab.

Who Should Not Eat Surf Perches?

Depending on the demographic you belong to, you might need to reduce surf perches’ serving per week. Below, you will find out the current serving, depending on your age and gender. 

However, young children and pregnant women should be particularly careful about eating surf perches. 

Indeed, pregnant women can pass the chemicals in the fish onto the fetus, for which such chemicals can be much more damaging.

Due to the body’s small size and reduced weight, fetuses also need just reduced quantities to experience chemical poisoning symptoms. 

How Many Servings Per Week Can You Eat?

Here is an overview of how much surf perches we can eat. However, you should keep in mind that children’s portions should be much smaller than adult potions. As a general unit of measure, you can examine the piece of fish picked against your kids’ hands

  • Children up to 17 years of age – 2 servings per week
  • Women between 18 and 49 years of age – 2 servings per week
  • Women above 59 years of age – 2 servings per week
  • Men above 18 years of age – 2 servings per week
  • Pregnant women and young babies should avoid surf perch consumption.


If you are fishing or angling off the West Coast, you will likely find a Surf Perch at the end of your line. These small fishes are safe to eat, but their consumption must be limited to two servings per week. In some areas, the water is so clean that you will be able to enjoy up to 7 servings of surf perches per week. 

However, to be on the same size, make sure you limit consumption and avoid surpassing the recommended serving by eating other fish types. When planning for portions, remember that children should be served more limited quantities of fish. 

Zaldy G.

I love feeling the cool ocean spray every time I hit the beach with a rod and a bucket of bait. I love the thrill of feeling bites on my line whenever I hook a big one. And I especially love the pride that comes with cooking a fresh catch and sharing it with my friends and family. Thank you for stopping by. Let's go catch some fish!

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