Meeting the Needs of the People

Fish Consumption Rates in the Pacific Northwest

Wendee Nicole


Environ Health Perspect. 2013;121(11) 

In This Article

A Lightning Rod

Just how wide is the gap between the fish consumption rate used in calculations and the amount Pacific Northwesterners actually eat? At a 2011 meeting between tribes and the Washington state government, the state Department of Ecology (WADOE[19]) and NWIFC served thimble-sized pieces of smoked salmon to then-governor Christine Gregoire and others in attendance. Each piece weighed 6.5 g.

But in 2012 WADOE published a document detailing how much fish Washingtonians actually eat.[1] The report reviewed four tribal studies plus data from recreational fishers, and found that the general population averages 19–56 g per day, while tribal members can eat up to 797 g (1.75 pounds) every day.

Michael Grayum, executive director of NWIFC, explained in a September 2012 letter to the EPA Region 10 office that the treaty tribes of western Washington view fish and shellfish as a central component of their spiritual and cultural identity and an important food source. "The longstanding inaccuracies found in the [fish consumption rates] have left tribal communities who rely upon fish and shellfish unduly exposed to toxic chemicals," he wrote. "This type of environmental policymaking, which provides less protection for a population of people and subsequently leads to the unequal exposure of pollutants, is undoubtedly an environmental injustice."[20]

Dale Norton, manager of WADOE's Toxics Studies Unit, notes that other factors besides the assumed fish consumption rate affect the calculation of water quality criteria for a pollutant. These include characteristics of the population, bioconcentration factors for toxics, drinking water intake, and relative source contribution (potential exposures from skin absorption, inhalation, and food sources other than fish and water). However, "fish consumption rate has been kind of a lightning rod," says Norton.