On a business trip to Southern California, I visited the Daughter, and together we saw this sign about contaminated fish on the Manhattan Beach Pier. It caught my eye that you shouldn’t eat barracuda (you can catch barracuda off of a pier in LA?), and then I noticed that the warnings were written in not just English and Spanish, but also in Vietnamese and Chinese. I have written about Asian American subsistence fishing in Northern California, and I became curious about the situation in Southern California. What happened here to the fish? Manhattan Beach definitely didn’t seem to be predominantly Asian American. So why are the warnings also in Chinese and Vietnamese?
According to this LA Times article, the Montrose Chemical company years ago dumped about 110 tons of the DDT pesticide and 11 tons of PCBs into into the ocean off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Large portions of the Palos Verdes shelf were declared to be Superfund sites by the Environmental Protection Agency. Certain fish species like the white croaker and topsmelt are contaminated with those now banned toxins. Barracuda and Black Croaker contain mercury. The Fish Contamination Education Collaborative (FCEC) recommends that fish from certain species from that area are never to be eaten.
This study of fishermen on LA area piers says that many of the people fishing there are not from the local beach communities. While 43% of those who said they ate their catch were Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islanders encountered were noted to speak Tongan, Samoan, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Chinese. A number of these declined to participate in the survey as translators were not available in these languages. The study showed that many of these fisherman fully intended to consume their catch, along with their families, and that a significant portion regularly ate pier caught fish and considered doing so as a cost savings.
The study found that many people continue fishing despite the knowing the warnings. I found that too, as you can see from the picture to the right. When Heal the Bay sent bilingual volunteers to warn people about the hazards of these fish, they were not always believed. Says Heal the Bay outreach worker Halima Dominguez about fish contamination:
Many people have been catching these fish for years as a healthy, fresh food and don’t believe it. You can’t taste it and can’t see it, but it’s there.
The web site www.pvsfish.org has more information on what fish Southern Californians should not eat and how much of certain kinds of fish can be safely consumed within a given period of time. If you know someone eating fish caught on piers or beaches in the LA and Orange County Areas, please let them know about the FCEC’s fish consumption guidelines.