Fish Consumption: What’s all the fuss?

Jeff Dickison, assistant natural resources manager, Squaxin Island Tribe.

Catherine O’Neill, Seattle University Law School

Paraphrasing what Catherine is saying:

We know we live in an mazing place, but the fish that we depend on are degraded and are polluted.

Water quality standards are the mechanism for reducing pollution and reducing pollution impact on humans.

Fish consumption rate is a portion of a larger health based equation that is meant to reduce the risk of ill health.

The current FCR is based on an estimate that was done 40 years ago at the request of the tuna industry. Because of pollution, fish consumption was probably pretty low. This is also a time when tribal fishing was still coming back online, the Boldt decision just having been handed down.

Water will only be clean enough to allow up to one meal a month.


The tribe conducted one of the first fish consumption surveys with their members, working with the Tulalip Tribes and the EPA.

The 6.5 rate was built taking into consideration of what people eat in Nebraska. Even coastal people eat more than that. And, tribal members eat even more. Tribal survey was in 1994, 20 years after the original survey.

When you talk about percentiles of protection in Indian Country (90th, 95th) tribal leaders know who the 10 percent and 5 percent who are being left out. It isn’t just a number. So, even rates like 175 are compromise numbers for the tribe, because they leave so many people out.

Squaxin dietary surveys found that children under six consumed fish over 3 times the rate of their parents.

Tribes started proving their populations were at risk 20 years ago, but we’re still not where we need to be. The FCR has not gone up.


EPA was moved by the tribal studies, updated guidance in 2000:

  • National default moved to 17.5 grams a day.
  • Subsistence rate moved to 142.2 grams a day

Default rates are only used as a last resource. Local data is preferred. And, Washington of course has local data.

Also, keep in mind that contemporary numbers are lower than historic rates because of pollution and degradation of natural resources.

So, where is Washington? Fifteen years ago, the state recognized they needed to update the FCR, but a report was never finalized.

State started the process, but in July 2012, the state pivoted in their process:

And, lastly, this past summer, the state announced an increase in the FCR to 175, but increased the risk of cancer rate by 10 fold. The state also announced that for the pollutants that would go up, that they wouldn’t backslide.