Fishing & Environmental Justice
The Midwest Environmental Justice Organization (MEJO) has a mission to educate the community about environmental justice issues, work to address them, and support environmental justice for the benefit of the general public.
We have been working with people of color and low-income residents for more than two years discussing toxins in locally-caught fish, and learning about cultural practices regarding fishing and preparing and eating fish.
Due to mercury and PCB levels in fish, the State of Wisconsin has issued fish advisory warnings regarding toxins to anglers and those who eat locally caught fish from inland Wisconsin waters. Yet fish advisory information is little known or unknown to many anglers.
Levels of mercury, PCBs and other toxins that concentrate in fish are a known public health hazard. Shoreline anglers catch and consume many pan fish that may have lower toxin levels than larger fish, but when consumed in high quantities they may exceed levels recommended to avoid negative health effects; they also frequently catch and consume larger fish, which tend to have higher concentrations of toxins.
Through our investigations, we have learned that public agencies have very little data about local fish consumption habits and toxin levels in locally caught fish and have little interaction with local anglers and their families who eat large amounts of locally caught fish.
Levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pesticides, and other toxins are high enough in Dane County lake sediments and waters to raise concerns that people may need to limit their consumption of fish caught in these waters because these compounds build up in fish tissue, which humans consume (see the “Data Collection” section below).
Women of childbearing age, pregnant women and children are especially at risk for developmental, neurological and long term health problems from exposure to toxins present in locally caught fish. The environmental impacts of pollution on low-income and minority citizens are often unknown or underestimated because of a lack of data collection, and lack of consideration of these populations in determining public policy. This reality is a key component of environmental justice.
The common good and sound public health policy is served by informing anglers and others of potential risks associated with consuming many kinds of locally caught fish.
We recommend that fish consumption advisory information be better communicated, especially to low-income and color communities, through permanent, laminated metal signs at popular publicly-accessible shoreline fishing locations, in Hmong, Spanish and English.