More accurate fish consumption rate expected in 2014

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

A more accurate state fish consumption rate should be in place by next year, Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology, told tribal leaders and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials at a meeting Thursday.

The fish consumption rate is part of a human health criteria used by state government to determine how much pollution is allowed to be put in our waters. The rate is supposed to protect Washington residents from more than 100 toxins that can cause illness or death.

“We don’t need more debate. We have the science and we have had all of the discussions,” said Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “Time is running out and we must move forward. We need the governor to work with us to make this happen,” he said.

“This is a public health issue for everyone who lives here,” said Brian Cladoosby, chair of the Swinomish Tribe. “We have worked hard with the state for the past eight years to revise our state’s fish consumption rate and water quality standards. We did not expect this issue to be kicked down the road, but that’s what happened. Now the debate is over and we need to move toward implementing a new rate, but we need a firm commitment from Gov. Inslee that he will help make that happen.”

Tribal, state and federal leaders agree that current rate is not accurate and that actual fish consumption is much higher. Tribes suggest a rate of at least 175 grams per day – the same standard recently adopted by Oregon – as a starting point for discussions.

The state’s current fish consumption rate of 6.5 grams per day – about one 8-ounce seafood meal per month – is one of the lowest in the nation, despite the fact that Washington has one of the highest populations of seafood consumers. That rate has been in place for more than 20 years and is not protective of most residents, especially tribal members and others who consume large amounts of seafood. Furthermore, tribal treaty rights depend on fish and shellfish being safe to eat.

The tribes and state Department of Ecology had been working to increase the rate when the effort was stalled last summer by business interests who complained to state government that a rate change would be too costly for them to implement. Since then tribes have been working with Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to get the process back on track.

“This is not a choice between a healthy environment and a healthy economy. Both of those things can go hand in hand,” said Russ Hepfer, vice chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.