Meeting the Needs of the People

Fish Consumption Rates in the Pacific Northwest

Wendee Nicole


Environ Health Perspect. 2013;121(11) 

In This Article

Getting to Implementation

Although implementing new standards costs money, Chris Wilke, director of Puget Sound Waterkeepers, underscores that cleaner water provides economic benefits.[46,47,48] "Commercial fishing used to be very strong in Washington state. We used to have a lot of canneries in Puget Sound, and we have a suppressed consumption rate[1] because there are not as many fish as there used to be," he says.

If waters get cleaned up and fish populations rebound, Wilke reasons, recreational and commercial fishing could expand. Tightening water quality standards also creates benefits in terms of avoided health costs for diseases attributable to toxic pollutants in water.[47,49]

"Fishable/swimmable water is guaranteed to all citizens under the Clean Water Act, and if it's not clean, it needs to be cleaned up," Wilke says. "So often, environmental issues get distilled down into jobs versus the environment, and we're talking about people's health here, not some theoretical environmental protection for one sensitive species. In this case, the sensitive species is people."

Wilke gives an example of how, in practice, current standards fail to protect anglers. "Currently we have a fish consumption advisory in Puget Sound for resident Chinook [blackmouth] because of PCBs," he says. The Department of Health recommends no more than two blackmouth meals per month. "One fish weighs up to twelve pounds, and yet the Department of Fish and Wildlife gives people twenty punches on their card," he says, referring to the mandatory Catch Record Cards that anglers use to track the number and species of fish they land. In other words, it could be argued that there is implicit encouragement to catch more fish than may be safe to eat—avid blackmouth anglers likely consume far more than two meals per month. A disconnect exists between the health advisory and the fishing regulations.

"We all deserve to be able to eat fish without the fear that it will make us sick," says Mihailovich, Indeed, the right to fishable/swimmable water was afforded to all citizens through the 1972 Clean Water Act, although it has taken several decades to see its provisions fully realized.

"The time to study this is over," Mihailovich says. "There are so many studies out there that show we are off target [regulation-wise], and the current number doesn't protect us. We need to look at implementation."