Asian American Medical Hazard: Toxic Subsistence Fishing


When I saw this sign at the start of a run at Coyote Point, a park on San Francisco Bay, I thought to myself, “do people really eat a lot of fish from the Bay?”  Apparently many do, as a few miles down from this sign I saw people fishing.  I also  remembered that when I was growing up, we did eat a large striped bass that my father caught in the Bay.  Enough people, often poor African Americans and Asian Americans, are doing subsistence fishing that California Department of Public Health and Regional Water Quality Board started the San Francisco Bay Fish Project  to warn  Asian Americans and others about the hazards of eating too much Bay fish.

What can eating too much of these fish do to you?  Carcinogenic PCBs are present  in SF Bay fish.  Mercury, which can cause neurological problems and can affect brain development,  is present too in these fish.  Because of these potential developmental issues, women of child bearing years and children have different allocations of fish that are safe to eat.  Some fish, like the white croaker, are not recommended for this group, while other people are allowed up to one white croaker a week.  Other fish, like surf perches, are not recommended in any time frame.

The program targeted a number of Asian American groups, and worked with a number of community groups to generate Asian language material.  There are warnings available in many Asian and Pacific Islander languages, including Vietnamese, Tagalog, and Samoan.  The California Health Department followed up on the signs that they put up and did a study to see how effective they were.   They surveyed 37 bay fisherman, including 1 interview in Spanish and 8 in Chinese, and found that while most had seen and understood the signs, there were still 10 who continued to eat Bay fish more than once a week.


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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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