Meeting the Needs of the People

Fish Consumption Rates in the Pacific Northwest

Wendee Nicole


Environ Health Perspect. 2013;121(11) 

In This Article

An End to Delays

Congress grew frustrated over states' continued hesitancy to enact standards, and in 1987 passed amendments requiring—rather than suggesting—that states adopt numeric water quality standards.[15]

By the 1990s, the time for suggestions was over. The EPA issued the National Toxics Rule (NTR) in 1992, putting into place the agency's recommended water quality criteria for states that hadn't established their own EPA-approved numeric criteria.[15] While acknowledging that state efforts had been stymied by limited resources and legal challenges, the EPA insisted, "The absence of State water quality standards for toxic pollutants undermines State and EPA toxic control efforts to address these problems. Without clearly established water quality goals, the effectiveness of many of EPA's water programs is jeopardized."[15]

By the time the NTR completed public review, all but 12 states (Alaska, Arkansas, California, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington), plus Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, had adopted EPA-approved human health criteria for water quality standards.[15]

One of the variables used to calculate ambient water quality criteria is fish consumption rate, an estimated average of the amount of fish eaten in a given area. Under the NTR, the EPA assumed a fish consumption rate of 6.5 g/day—or one 7-ounce meal per month—but in 2000 the agency recommended that states use a default value of 17.5 g/day, a rate that protects up to the 90th percentile of people in the United States. However, individual states where more fish is eaten should have water quality standards that reflect that, according to EPA guidelines.[18]

In the Pacific Northwest, fish consumption can be especially high among tribes as well as recreational anglers, certain minority and immigrant groups, and low-income populations who may ignore fish advisory warnings because they need to put food on the table.[1,17] But despite having populations that eat a lot of fish, the state of Washington still uses the old default value of 6.5 g/day.

Tony Meyer, manager of information services and education for NWIFC, points out this is one of the lowest fish consumption rates in the country. "We've been trying to get this rate changed for the past twenty years," he says.