State takes new look at how much fish is safe to eat

The Seattle Times has a story about state plans to take a look at its water quality standards, after prodding by tribes and other parties.

For the Swinomish of La Conner and other tribes in Washington, local game and seafood are an integral part of every funeral, birthday celebration or other family gathering.

“We were at a clambake one time eating mussels, and I saw this one elder who was just shoveling mussels into her mouth,” said Larry Campbell, Swinomish tribal historian.

When he asked friends why she was eating so fast, they told him she was allergic to shellfish and wanted to eat as many as she could before she broke out in hives.

“Even if the fish is poisonous to our bodies, we’re still going to eat it,” Campbell said. “Our spirit demands it.”

But high levels of toxins have limited fishing and shellfish harvesting for the Swinomish in recent decades.

The tribe in 2002 received a large grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to put local shellfish and crabs under the microscope and found flesh riddled with hazardous levels of suspected carcinogens such as dioxins and PCBs. Other tribes throughout the state have found similar toxins in their food.

The Ecology Department now is poised to invite the key stakeholders — tribal leaders, regional EPA officials and representatives of industry — to share their concerns and desires in hope of reaching a timely agreement.