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It’s time, everyone stand up for clean seafood

By Billy Frank Jr.

For more than 20 years the state of Washington has based its water quality standards on the idea that we eat one small bite a day, or 6.5 grams. About the size of a sugar cube.

That number is very important to everyone who lives here because it is used to set state standards for how much pollution can legally be put into our waters. The number the state’s using right now isn’t even close to what most of us eat.

We’ve been working hard for the past two decades to encourage the state to adopt a more realistic rate that will better protect those waters, the food that comes out of them, and the health of everyone who lives here. Now it finally looks like the state Department of Ecology is taking steps to revise the old standards, and that’s encouraging.

It’s a sad fact that much of our local seafood is contaminated by pollution that seems to be everywhere in our environment. The new consumption standard will be aimed at helping to reduce levels of more than 100 pollutants that can hurt people. Over the long term these poisons can make us sick and even kill us.

Sure, some people don’t eat locally harvested seafood at all, but those of us who do, sure as heck eat a lot more than a small bite a day. Even though tribal members eat a lot more fish and shellfish than most folks, many thousands of non-Indians – especially our Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities – also make seafood a large part of their diets.

It’s a shame that it’s taken so long to revise our state’s ridiculously low consumption standard, but the polluters have a strong lobby. They’ll tell us we can’t afford to protect our water, our food and our health, that new rules will lead to everything from lost jobs to higher sewer rates at a time when our economy is struggling.

The truth is that we’ve all been paying the costs of a low consumption rate for many years in terms of the quality of our water, food and our health.

Regardless of what number is chosen to update the consumption standard, it’s unlikely to even come close to the amount of fish and shellfish tribes eat every day.  But revising our state’s fish consumption standard is not just a tribal issue. It’s a public health issue that affects everyone who lives here. That’s why we support a significant increase.

We are standing on the edge of a great opportunity and we need to take bold action. Ecology will be holding public hearings on the new standards and you will have a chance to participate. Stand up for the water! Stand up for your food and your health! Let Ecology know that you eat fish and shellfish from Washington waters. Tell them you want to see the new consumption standard adopted quickly, without major loopholes for polluters.

For us tribes, Western Washington is our home, and its waters are the source of much of our food.  Our cultures and treaty rights are tied to this place, and we are committed to keeping it a healthy place to live.  Fish and shellfish are food.  There’s no reason it shouldn’t be available, plentiful and healthy enough for all of us to eat.

Billy Frank Jr. is Chairman of Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

 

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