Is Sea Bass A Safe Fish During Pregnancy? Mercury + Species Guide

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Sea bass is a common fish and appears on many restaurant menus. With concerns about mercury for pregnant women, you’ll want to make sure it’s safe to eat while you’re expecting.

Sea bass is safe in moderation during pregnancy, and only if it’s fully cooked. Most species of sea bass (with the exception of Chilean sea bass) are low in mercury, making it a good choice of fish when you’re pregnant. Although it’s not an oily fish, sea bass should be treated as one for the purposes of pregnancy safety.

There are different species of sea bass such as striped sea bass, black seabass, Chilean sea bass, and European sea bass. I’ll walk you through which of these kinds of sea bass are safe during pregnancy and how to enjoy them.

Is Sea Bass Safe To Eat During Pregnancy?

Cooked sea bass can be enjoyed up to three times a week during pregnancy. Although it’s not technically an oily fish, sea bass, and in particular Chilean sea bass should be treated like an oily fish (source: Food Standards Agency’s Committee on Toxicity)

Sea bass is considered a white fish, but it should not be consumed too often as it may contain a similar level of pollution as oily fish (source: NHS). The FDA recommends that pregnant women should not eat sea bass more than three times a week.

fresh fish and sea bass on ice

There are hundreds of species of sea bass but we will cover the most common in this article. 

Chilean sea bass is actually a type of cod, and is also known as the Patagonian toothfish. Chilean sea bass has the highest mercury content out of all the sea bass fish, and during pregnancy, you should only eat Chilean sea bass once a week at the most (source: FDA). While farmed fish tends to be somewhat lower in mercury, it’s not free from it either (source: Scientific American). 

European sea bass is found in waters around Europe and North Africa but can also be referred to as Mediterranean seabass, loup de mer or branzino. European sea bass has a lower mercury content than Chilean sea bass and a fairly low mercury content overall (source: Sea Food Source).

With a much lower mercury content than Chilean sea bass, black sea bass is considered safe to eat two to three times a week during pregnancy (source: FDA).

Striped Seabass is found on the east coast of the US in lakes and rivers but a large portion of striped sea bass are actually raised in fish farms. This species of fish has a similar low mercury level to black sea bass and European sea bass, so pregnant women can eat it up to three times a week.

All fish should be cooked to 145F / 63C before consumption during pregnancy. While fish generally “flake” once cooked, if in doubt test the temperature with a thermometer before eating (source: USDA). You can see which thermometers we recommend for cooking here.

steamed sea bass fish

Does Sea Bass Have a High Level of Mercury?

The mean mercury level in saltwater seabass, black sea bass, striped sea bass and rockfish is 0.167 which is fairly low.

Chilean sea bass has a mean PPM (parts per mille, or thousand) of 0.354. This is a moderate mercury level, which is why it’s best to only eat Chilean sea bass once a week. For comparison, fish with higher levels of mercury such as swordfish and shark rank up 0.995 and 0.979 respectively (source: FDA). 

Black seabass, striped sea bass, and rockfish are a better choice than tuna, mackerel, and marlin when it comes to the mercury content. This means that these kinds of sea bass can safely be enjoyed up to three times a week during pregnancy (source: FDA).

While farmed fish is usually lower in mercury due to their controlled diet which is largely made up of grains and soya compared to wild fish, they’re not free from it either. This is because many fish farms are either in or close to the ocean so the fish can still absorb small amounts of mercury (source: Scientific American). The levels are usually too small to be of concern, though.

Can I Eat Raw Sea Bass When Pregnant? Is It Safe?

In general, raw fish is not recommended during pregnancy, and sea bass is no exception (source: FDA). 

82% of obstetricians and gynecologists who responded to a survey on raw fish and pregnancy said that it is not safe, but 19% said that thorough freezing kills parasites. That said, 94% noted that parasitic infections are much more challenging to treat in pregnancy which is what makes raw fish such a concern during pregnancy (source: Zoonoses Public Health). 

Different countries give different advice to pregnant women on raw fish. In the UK, the NHS says that raw fish is safe if it has been frozen properly, whereas the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand do not recommend raw fish (or sushi) in any circumstances (source: BCCDC, Food Authority).

raw sea bass sushi rolls

Sea bass sashimi is made from raw sea bass on a rice ball, and Sea bass is also found in sea bass nigiri. However, pregnant women should usually avoid raw sushi, and that includes sea bass sushi. Read our dedicated sushi article for more on this.  

Chilean sea bass is often “fresh” or “refreshed” which means it was initially frozen at sea and thawed out. The label will usually indicate that it was previously frozen (source: Sea Food Source), and you should store it or use it as soon as it’s defrosted, according to the packet.

Safe Ways of Eating Sea Bass During Pregnancy

There are several sea bass dishes you can enjoy during pregnancy: 

Grilled sea bass is relatively safe during pregnancy as long as it has been cooked thoroughly. It can be made with any type of bass and is generally seasoned with lemon and herbs and cooked on a well-oiled grill until the skin turns opaque and flakey. You can read more about BBQ food during pregnancy here.

Sea bass can be pan-fried and served alongside vegetables or in a salad. It is seasoned before seared on the pan and cooked completely on both sides before serving with potatoes, couscous or nutritious veggies. 

To avoid cooking with oil which can add extra fat and calories to your diet, sea bass can be baked in an oven for 25 minutes and served with peppers, pinenuts, and olives (source: BBC Good Food). 

Grilled sea bass with edamame, miso and sesame seeds is a safer way to enjoy “sushi” while you’re expecting, too.

Overall, sea bass is still a great, nutritious fish choice – just check which species it is, and make sure it’s thoroughly cooked.