Fish consumption rate is a 7-generation issue

June 6, 2014 

Do you like to eat local fish and shellfish? If so, you should know that right now Gov. Jay Inslee is deciding how much pollution can be dumped in our waters under water quality regulations that are being updated.

There are two important numbers that go into making the decision. One is our fish consumption rate. At 6.5 grams per day — about one eight-ounce seafood meal per month — we have one of the lowest rates in the United States. That is shocking when you realize we have one of the highest populations of fish and shellfish eaters in the country.

The other number is our cancer risk rate from exposure to pollutants in our waters. Today that rate is calculated at one in a million. But the governor is considering a change that would decrease that protection rate to one in 100,000.

Why? Because business is telling the governor that any meaningful change in water quality standards will increase their cost of business and hurt the economy.

Yet Oregon recently increased its fish consumption rate to 175 grams per day, the most protective rate in the country. They did it through flexibility. Implementing improved water quality standards is phased in over many years, not overnight.

That level is still inadequate for Indian people and others who eat more fish and shellfish than most. Nonetheless, the tribes are willing to compromise at a fish consumption of 175 grams per day and the current cancer risk rate of one in a million.

Our treaty-reserved rights depend on the health of the fish and shellfish that we harvest. Those rights also include protection of those resources from environmental degradation.

Even the state’s own studies say that a rate of 157-267 is more reflective of actual fish consumption in our state. As for the economy, how many jobs are worth the lives of the additional people that will die from increased exposure to pollution in our waters?

One of our fundamental tribal beliefs is that we must act in the best interests of those who will live after us seven generations from now. I think Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam tribal chairman, says it best: “This is a seven-generation human health issue, not a one-generation economic issue.”

Jim Peters is a member of the Squaxin Island Tribal Council. He has more than 35 years of experience in natural resources management.

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