Tribes Call for Fish Consumption Rate Action

Treaty Indian tribes in western Washington are calling on governor-elect Jay Inslee to reset the process of updating the state’s unrealistic fish consumption rate that is supposed to protect us from long-term exposure to poisons in our waters.

The fish consumption rate is important because it is one of the factors that the state uses to determine how much toxic pollution that industry is allowed to discharge in our waters. Updating the current rate will help reduce levels of more than 100 pollutants that can make us sick and even kill us over time. For us tribes, pollution denies our treaty rights because those rights depend on fish and shellfish being safe to eat.

The state Department of Ecology promised more than a year ago to develop a more accurate rate, but halfway through the process did an about-face. All it took was for business and industry lobbyists to voice some concerns to stop development of the new rate dead in its tracks.

Tribes across the state have rejected Ecology’s proposed new roundtable approach to revise the rate because it does not offer a clear, decisive path forward in a government-to-government framework. In the meantime, tribes have begun talks with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help address the problem.

The state says that 6.5 grams daily — roughly a single 8-ounce serving per month — is how much fish and shellfish that we all eat. That standard has been in place for more than 20 years. Oregon’s rate, by comparison, was recently increased to 175 grams a day. We think the people of Washington deserve at least that much protection from pollution.

The state acknowledges that the current rate does not protect the majority of Washington residents because most of us eat more than one seafood meal a month. This is especially true for Indian people and members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities here in Washington. In fact, Washington uses one of the lowest fish consumption rates to set pollution standards, but has one of the highest fish-consuming populations in the nation.

Instead of fighting development of a more accurate fish consumption rate, business and industry could be leading the effort to protect human health in this state. Weyerhaeuser, for example, stepped forward in the mid-1980s to help lead the process that reformed forest practices in Washington. The resulting agreement — the work of tribes, environmental groups, the timber industry and state government — brought protection to fish and wildlife habitat on private timberlands while also ensuring a healthy future for the timber industry.

We stand ready to work with state government, business, environmental groups and others to find a way forward in developing and implementing a more truthful fish consumption rate. We all want a strong economy, but not at the expense of human health or the environment on which we all depend.

I urge our new governor and other elected officials to provide the leadership needed to do what’s right and require Ecology to establish a more accurate fish consumption rate in Washington. The health of every one of us who lives here hangs in the balance.

Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, (360) 438-1181.