April 3, 2013
Each state has an agency that advises people not to consume certain recreationally caught fish, because of health concerns. Each state also has an agency that aims to prevent certain species from being overfished. Unfortunately, in many cases these two agencies are sending mixed messages to the public.
According to a study authored by David Love, PhD, and colleagues from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, in many states these two types of government agency (one concerned with environmental resource management and the other with health) need to increase their collaboration in order to avoid one agency giving the go-ahead to catch a certain species while another agency warns that same species is not safe to eat.
Such mixed messaging “on which recreationally caught fish were safe to catch versus which were safe to eat were not uncommon,” according to the research, published in the current issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. “When catch regulations indicated a species was ‘safe to catch,’ 70% of consumption advisories recommended that anglers limit or not consume that same species if caught in state waters.”
States such as Arkansas, Georgia and Oregon might be good models of collaboration for other states to emulate, according to the authors. Arkansas, for example, presents consumption advisories and catch regulations together on one page, listing them by water body.
Forty-seven states put out a guide for recreational fishers, but only 22 of those guides provide detailed information about fish consumption, the study reported. Fifteen state fishing guides offered no information about fish consumption, while 10 others had only general information that was not linked to any particular species or water body.
Consumption advisories are of critical public health importance because, as the authors point out, “there are fewer regulatory safeguards to protect individuals who consume self-caught seafood than exist for consumers of commercially-available seafood.” In addition, people who fish consume about twice as much seafood as the national average.
The Johns Hopkins authors also frame the issue of effective health advisories on fish as a food justice issue, since subsistence fishers and their families may face greater exposure to environmental chemicals that bioaccumulate in seafood and hence disproportionate health risks.
The Johns Hopkins researchers suggest public policies that would require inter-agency collaboration on fish advisories to “better protect fishers and others from consuming contaminated seafood.”
Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service