Fish Consumption Rate a bargain

Though higher now, reflecting a more accurate statistic, there seems to be no affect in limiting pollution


By Andrew Gobin, Tulalip News

Today, Governor Jay Inslee met with tribal leaders before holding a briefing on Washington’s Fish Consumption Rate (FCR) and water quality. The new FCR, now set at 175g per day, comes with the compromise that increases allowable pollution 1000 percent.

Originally set at 6.5g per day, Puget Sound tribes, with the support of the public minority, have been pushing to reexamine the FCR, seeking a number that more accurately reflects the amount of fish consumed by Washington residents per capita. The rate of 6.5g per day specifically included a section that mitigated the high consumption of seafood by tribal communities, allowing for a low number to be reached. The new rate of 175g per day is a more realistic representation of the seafood consumed by all Washington residents.

The FCR is a measurement used to gauge the impacts of water pollution on the public. Former standards stated that the acceptable level of toxins allowed could only lead to one in one million people to develop cancer. The FCR that was set at 6.5g was intended to allow for a tenfold increase in pollution and water toxin levels.

Although Washington’s FCR is now almost 30 times higher than what it was, the agreement to increase the FCR was achieved through a compromise, bargaining to increase the acceptable persons to get cancer from one in one million, to one in 100,000. That means that the acceptable level of pollution would be ten times higher.

In the NWIFC statement Lorraine Loomis, vice chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and fisheries manager for the Swinomish Tribe, said, “This is a political decision, not one based on sound science. While a toxics control effort is needed, it is not an effective replacement for strong water quality rules and standards. We cannot continue with a pollution-based economy.”

“We’ve been working with the state on this issue for more than 20 years. We need action,” she added.

Tribes will be meeting with the EPA to review the proposed changes and evaluate their next move.


Andrew Gobin is a staff reporter with the Tulalip News See-Yaht-Sub, a publication of the Tulalip Tribes Communications Department.
Phone: (360) 716.4188

Business interests trump health concerns in fish consumption fight

Fish Consumption Rates

“Our tribal leadership’s main responsibility is simply to protect our people,” said Marc Gauthier, a representative of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, before leaving the meeting. “It comes down to that basic human desire to protect your family.”

By Robert McClure
March 30, 2013

The Washington State Department of Ecology has known since the 1990s that its water-pollution limits have meant some Washingtonians regularly consume dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals in fish from local waterways.

At least twice, Ecology has been told by its overseers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fix the problem and better protect people’s health. Ecology was close to finally doing that last year — until Boeing and other business interests launched an intense lobbying campaign aimed not just at Ecology but also at the Washington Legislature and then-Gov. Christine Gregoire. That is the picture that emerges from recent interviews as well as government documents obtained by InvestigateWest under the Washington Public Records Law.

The problem lies in Ecology’s estimate of how much fish people eat. The lower the amount, the more water pollution Ecology can legally allow. So by assuming that people eat the equivalent of just one fish meal per month, Ecology is able to set less stringent pollution limits.

Meanwhile, citing the health benefits of fish, the state Department of Health advises people to eat fish twice a week, eight times as often as the official estimate of actual consumption. The state knows that some members of Indian tribes, immigrants and other fishermen consume locally caught seafood even more often than that and are therefore at greater risk of cancer, neurological damage and other maladies.

The Boeing Co. looms large in this story. In June 2012, Boeing said if Ecology went ahead with plans to make fish safer to eat, it would “cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars and severely hamper its ability to increase production in Renton and make future expansion elsewhere in the state cost prohibitive,” according to a Gregoire aide’s reconstruction of a conversation with a Boeing executive that month.

In July 2012, Ecology announced it would not go forward with a new rule to adjust the fish-eating estimate as planned. Instead the agency launched a “stakeholder process” that would delay any new rules for at least two years. Last week that process plodded on in Spokane, where state and local government officials and others spent more than three hours discussing the many contaminants that for years have prompted official state warnings against eating Washington fish too regularly.

“All we’ve seen is delay,” said Bart Mihailovich of the Spokane Riverkeeper environmental group, one of several that have refused to participate in the new series of meetings. “Why are we going back and doing what was already done?”

At the meeting in Spokane Thursday, a representative of Indian tribes called Ecology’s conduct “a betrayal” and explained that the tribes are boycotting the current process because it is unnecessary.

“Our tribal leadership’s main responsibility is simply to protect our people,” said Marc Gauthier, a representative of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, before leaving the meeting. “It comes down to that basic human desire to protect your family.”

Ecology had at least one other false start in fixing the rules, back in the mid-1990s, an effort that petered out even before a rule change was proposed, said Melissa Gildersleeve, the Ecology manager overseeing the current stakeholder process. That followed a 1994 study by the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission that documented how the national estimate of one fish meal per month was greatly and regularly exceeded by some members of Indian tribes.

While who eats how much contaminated fish is a slippery and much-debated corner of science, few of the parties involved in the current dispute in Washington contend that the current fish-consumption rate accurately reflects the true amount eaten, especially by some groups such as members of Indian tribes, subsistence fishermen and immigrants. The figure came from a 1973-74 federal study that asked consumers to fill our “food diaries” for three days, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Read full article here

“Being Frank” Fish Consumption Rate Unjust

By Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – Medical experts say eating a Mediterranean diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil and fish is one of the best things we can do to reduce our risk of heart attack and stroke. Eating more fish and other seafood is a healthy choice as long as those foods don’t come from polluted waters. We think the state of Washington needs to make sure our waters stay clean.

Washington uses one of the lowest fish consumption rates in the country – about 6.5 grams a day, or one 8-ounce fish meal a month – to set rules for how much pollution that industry can put in our waters. That rate is supposed to protect us from more than 100 toxins that can make us sick or kill us, but it was set more than 20 years ago. Even the state Department of Ecology recognizes that the inaccurate rate does not protect most of us who live in Washington, a state with one of the largest populations of seafood consumers in the country.

We should not face an increased risk of illness from toxic chemicals when we try to improve our health by eating seafood.  Washington’s fish consumption rate should be at least as protective as Oregon’s, which has been raised to 175 grams, or about one fish meal per day. Plenty of scientific evidence supports an increase to that amount or more.

Treaty tribes have been trying for years to get Ecology to update the fish consumption rate. Our health and our treaty rights depend on our food being safe to eat.

Work to raise the rate finally began last year, but about halfway through the process Ecology did an about-face and progress skidded to a halt. The cause? A phone call from industry representatives who said revising the rate would be bad for our economy because it would increase the cost of doing business.

We’re trying to get the process back on track, and remain hopeful that Gov. Inslee and new Ecology Director Maia Bellon can help make it happen. We’re also working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to form a Government Leadership Group to move forward.

It’s not going to be easy, though. We’re up against some powerful interests.

Opponents claim federal water quality standards in place here already protect all of us. But how can that be, if we already know the fish consumption rate is wrong? Their answer is that existing rules can include a larger fish consumption rate as long as those who eat more fish accept a higher risk of getting cancer.

Imagine that. What they’re saying is that most people in Washington would be protected by a rate of risk that one in one million people will get cancer from toxins in water. But for anybody who eats more than one seafood meal per month, including Indians, Asians and Pacific Islanders, that risk rate can be as high as one in 10,000. That’s unacceptable. Current state law requires cancer risk rates to protect everyone at the rate of one in a million. That standard should remain unchanged.

There’s no question that seafood is good for us, but it won’t be that way for long if pollution is allowed to contaminate the waters it comes from. It is unjust for Indian people and others who consume a lot of seafood to be at greater risk for getting cancer than everyone else.

Developing a more realistic fish consumption rate and keeping risk standards in place to protect our health is a matter of justice – social justice and environmental justice – for everyone who lives here. None of us deserves anything less.


For updates on the fish consumption rate debate, go to