Travel & Day Trips

Is it Safe to Eat Fish Caught in the San Francisco Bay?

The San Francisco Bay is a bustling hub for recreational fishing, but many anglers and local residents often ponder the safety of consuming fish caught in these waters.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has provided guidelines to help make informed choices about which fish are safe to eat and in what quantities.

Here’s a quick breakdown.

Understanding the Guidelines

Categories of Fish Consumers

The guidelines categorize consumers into three groups based on age and gender, as these factors influence the impact of contaminants:

  • Women (18-49 years) and Children (1-17 years)
  • Women (50+ years) and Men (18+ years)

Consumption Recommendations

The good news is that people in all age/gender categories can safely eat at least some fish from the San Francisco Bay! And some people can eat certain fish from the Bay every single day if they want to.

Credit: OEHHA

For Women (18-49 years) and Children (1-17 years):

  • Total Servings: Up to 2 servings per week OR 1 serving per week of different fish species.
  • Do Not Eat: Shark species, striped bass, and white sturgeon, among others (see the guidelines for a full list)
  • Preferred Choices: American shad, chinook (king) salmon, and some smaller fish like anchovies and jacksmelt.
Credit: OEHHA

For Women (50+ years) and Men (18+ years):

  • Total Servings: Varies from 7 servings per week to 1 serving per week, depending on the fish.
  • Do Not Eat: Shark species, striped bass, and white sturgeon, among others (see the guidelines for a full list)
  • Preferred Choices: Similar to the first group, with the addition of some larger fish like halibut and jacksmelt.

More to Read

Fish to Eat and Avoid

In addition to age and gender based guidelines, there are guidelines as to which fish from the SF Bay are safe to eat, and which ones to avoid.

Good Choices for All

  • American shad and chinook salmon are recommended for all, offering lower levels of contaminants.

Fish to Limit

  • Certain species like California halibut, Pacific sardine, and jacksmelt should be eaten less frequently due to higher contaminant levels.

Fish to Avoid

  • Larger fish like shark species, striped bass, and white sturgeon are to be avoided by all due to high contaminant concentrations. Others are limited, too (see the guidelines for a full list).

It’s important to note that no one should consume any fish from the Lauritzen Channel due to high contamination.

Fishing Pier in downtown San Francisco, California

Serving Sizes and Preparation

Serving Size

  • A serving size is considered as one ounce of fish for every twenty pounds of individual body weight. This means a 140-pound woman could have a 7-ounce serving.

Preparation Tips

  • For fish species with higher fat content, it is recommended to eat only the skinless fillet, as some chemicals are higher in the skin, fat, and guts.


It is indeed safe to eat fish from the San Francisco Bay provided that consumers follow the guidelines laid out by health officials.

These guidelines are crucial for minimizing exposure to harmful contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. Always remember to refer to the most current recommendations, as these can change based on ongoing environmental assessments.

Table Summary of Guidelines

Consumer GroupServings Per WeekFish to EatFish to LimitDo Not Eat
Women (18-49) & Children (1-17)Up to 2American shad, Chinook salmonCalifornia halibut, AnchovyShark, Striped bass, White sturgeon
Women (50+) & Men (18+)1 to 7American shad, Chinook salmon, Halibut, JacksmeltAnchovy, SardineShark, Striped bass, White sturgeon

By adhering to these guidelines, individuals can enjoy the local bounty of the San Francisco Bay without compromising their health.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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