Something Fishy

Will eating more California fish really make you more healthy?

Will eating more California fish really make you more healthy? Photo: Curt Degler

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Evaluation (OEHHA) has decided that you need to eat more fish, no matter what the health consequences. The state now says that the solution to our obesity and heart disease epidemics isn’t eating fewer In-N-Out double doubles, but to consume more sport fish caught off the shores of California. Don’t worry that many species are riddled with harmful chemicals. And don’t be troubled by the fact that factory fishing has led to the collapse of most major fishery stocks. We can always lean on fish farms and our remaining struggling fisheries to put fish on the table.

In its new report, OEHHA reduces the acceptable cancer risk to fish consumers from 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 10,000 people.  Maybe OEHHA figured we didn’t have enough DDT and PCBs in our diet.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the new guidance is based on a fish consumption rate of eight ounces a week, about two average meals.  Ironically, the new guidance does a horrible job of protecting those people that eat a lot more fish than eight ounces of fish a week. So subsistence anglers and members of the Asian community, especially Pacific Islanders, will be far less protected than the 1 in 10,000 cancer risk.  I’m not sure why OEHHA didn’t work with the Health Department and California Fish and Game to promote consumption of clean, sustainable fish instead of carcinogen-laden fish, but that’s the choice they made.

OEHHA has come up with a health guidance that is less protective than that of the Bush administration.  The national Environmental Protection Agency uses a 1 in 100,000 or 1 in a million cancer risk when deciding whether to issue health warnings. The EPA, as well as Heal the Bay, strongly opposed the new guidance, but to no avail. Now the state will use the guidance to issue health warnings to consumers of contaminated fish.  They just won’t be very protective to people that eat a lot of fish.  Also, the new guidance will probably mean that contaminated ocean floor hot-spots may not need to be cleaned up as much — if at all — based on the new higher risk thresholds. All in all, a horrible health protection strategy that puts both the consumers and fish populations at greater risk. Read Heal the Bay’s tips on eating fish from the bay.

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