TNT: Better fish consumption rate isn’t coming anytime soon

Jordon Schraeder of the Tacoma News Tribune points out the delay recently announced by the state Department of Ecology to increasing our fish consumption rate:

A dispute over how much seafood people eat in Washington – and what it means for the state’s environmental regulations – will have to wait for the administration of a Gov. Jay Inslee or a Gov. Rob McKenna.

Fish-consumption rates are more controversial than they sound, because of their implications for how much pollution industrial and municipal plants are allowed to discharge into lakes, rivers and Puget Sound.

That’s why lobbyists for businesses, local governments, environmentalists and Indian tribes were at one time eagerly awaiting rules that Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Department of Ecology proposed last week and a technical document that is now due out in the next two weeks. Both were supposed to include estimates of fish consumption that would lead to a rate in state rules by the end of the year.

But Ecology decided not to publish a number for fish consumption in either document, which will delay the adoption of an official rate until 2013 or 2014.

Environmental groups and the treaty tribes in western Washington recently launched an educational effort called Keep our Seafood Clean.

An accurate fish cosumption rate is important because the rate is used to develop clean water standards. Shawn Yanity, chair of the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, recently made the argument for raising the rate to an accurate level:

However, Washington is one of nine states with the lowest fish consumption rate in the country, even though our residents are among the biggest consumers of fish. The current fish consumption rate of about 8 ounces per month was developed decades ago, is no longer accurate and does not adequately protect public health. That is why the state is considering increasing the rate to be more reflective of just how much fish and shellfish we all are eating. The new consumption standard will help reduce levels of more than 100 pollutants that can hurt human health.

Many Washington residents, including treaty Indian tribes, believe that we should be limiting pollution, not the amount of fish and shellfish that we eat. Oregon recently raised its fish consumption rate to about 12 pounds a month, which is the most protective rate in the country. Washingtonians deserve at least the same protection.

Although it is difficult to argue against protecting our fish, shellfish and public health, opponents challenge the dietary studies behind the fish consumption rate in Oregon and the similar rate proposed for Washington. But those studies were designed in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, state and federal health agencies, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The studies were then peer-reviewed by a panel of highly qualified independent scientists in public health and toxicology.