BRISTOL – Researchers at Roger Williams University have been awarded a $12,166 grant to investigate levels of mercury in scup, a native Atlantic Ocean fish that is commonly caught and eaten in Rhode Island, the university announced Monday.
The grant from the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Foundation will enable Associate Professor of Biology David L. Taylor and Roger Williams rising senior Sean Maiorano to examine scup, which — like other native fish — have seen far less research on mercury levels than species like tuna and swordfish.
Scup make up nearly a quarter of fish caught recreationally in Rhode Island, and they are popular among New England non-commercial fishermen.
One aim of the investigation to assist the R.I. Department of Health craft new standards for eating scup if researchers discover higher or lower mercury levels than were previously recorded. Taylor said in a statement that he expects to find a low mercury level, which could lead to guidelines encouraging fishermen to eat scup more. New fish consumption advisories will be based on this research as well as previous work Taylor has conducted locally on other fish species.
State advisories for eating fish usually rely on national data, which can fail to account for state-by-state discrepancies, Taylor said. The national standards may underestimate the mercury risk for Rhode Island fish like flounder and bluefish, he said.
Since recreational fishermen often eat more fish than other Americans — a local survey Taylor conducted found that their families ate 80 percent more than the national average — they may be at an increased risk for mercury poisoning, which can disrupt the nervous system, heart and immune system.
Taylor and Maiorano expect to start their work this month in Block Island Sound, Rhode Island Sound and Narragansett Bay.
“This is an important fish caught by local anglers and consumed by thousands of people,” Steve Medeiros, Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Foundation president, said in prepared remarks. “Our foundation believes that this research will aid everyone to determine if consumption of scup could lead to exposure to mercury.”