By Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
OLYMPIA – The Washington state legislature deserves thanks for not caving in to demands from Boeing and others to require yet another study of fish consumption rates in Washington to tell us what we already know: Our rate is too low and does not protect most of us who live here.
It wasn’t easy. A Senate measure requiring another study before beginning rulemaking on a new rate was tied to passage of the state budget, and nearly led to a government shutdown. Boeing and others have been trying to stop or delay development of a new rate because they say it would increase their cost of doing business.
The fish consumption rate is part of the human health standards used by state government to determine how much pollution is allowed to be put in our waters. The 20-year-old rate of 6.5 grams per day – about one eight-ounce seafood meal per month – is supposed to protect us from more than 100 toxins that can cause illness or death.
It’s a sad fact that Washington has one of the highest seafood-eating populations, but uses one of the lowest fish consumption rates in the country to regulate water pollution and protect human health. Another study could have delayed development of a new rate for three years or more.
Tribes have been reaching out to business and industry to discuss implementation of a new fish consumption rate. We are sensitive to possible economic impacts of a higher rate, and we want to continue working together to create a meaningful path forward. But those efforts have largely been ignored, and that’s too bad, because we have solved bigger issues than this by working together.
We are encouraged, however, by the actions of Dennis McLerran, regional Environmental Protection Agency administrator. He has stepped forward to express his agency’s commitment to protecting water quality and human health in Washington.
In a recent letter to Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology, McLerran pledged to support the state in developing a more accurate fish consumption rate. He made it clear, however, that if the state can’t or won’t get the job done, he will use his authority to establish a new rate. “The EPA believes there are scientifically sound regional and local data in Washington that are sufficient for Ecology to move forward in choosing a protective and accurate fish consumption rate at this time,” McLerran wrote.
Ecology director Bellon has said that we could have a more accurate fish consumption rate adopted by late 2014, and we intend to hold her to that. Oregon has increased its fish consumption rate to a more realistic 175 grams per day; we think Washington residents deserve at least that much protection.
We’re spending too much money, time and effort to clean up and protect Puget Sound and other waters to let business and industry continue to pollute those same waters. Right now we are paying for our state’s low fish consumption rate with the cost of our health, and that’s not right.
Developing a more accurate fish consumption rate isn’t about jobs versus the environment. It isn’t just an Indian issue. It’s a public health issue and needs to be treated that way. We can’t allow politics to trump common sense when it comes to protecting our own health and that of future generations.
If you want to learn more, visit the Keep Our Seafood Clean Coalition website at keepseafoodclean.org