Eating fish is good for you, if the fish you eat are not polluted. Fish
are high in protein, and fish oil helps prevent heart disease and
rheumatoid arthritis. In recent decades, concern for a healthy diet has
led Americans to eat more and more fish; on average, we consume 17 or
18 pounds of fish per person per year (a total of 2.7 billion pounds of
fish per year). Of course, many people eat more fish than the average.
Now three recent reports offer shocking news about the increasingly-
polluted condition of America's fish and fisheries, especially the
coastal and estuarine areas of the ocean, where the bulk of America's
fish are harvested. Even more shocking is the documented failure of
federal, state and local governments to regulate industrial dumping
into the nation's fishing waters.
By 1990, says the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 75% of the American people
will live on or near the coasts. Human activity is putting tremendous
pressure on the oceans--from industrial dumping, the dumping of
contaminated municipal sewage, and toxic runoff from municipal streets
and from pesticide-treated farmlands.
For example, the National Status and Trends Program of the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released the
first in a series of technical reports, revealing high levels of toxic
lead and cadmium in Boston Harbor, Salem Harbor (MA), and Narragansett
Bay (RI), Raritan Bay (NY and NJ), western Long Island (NY and CT), San
Diego harbor (CA), and San Pablo Bay and Hunter's Point in the San
Francisco Bay estuary. The same report points to chromium contamination
in areas along the northeast Atlantic Coast and in San Francisco Bay.
Copper contamination is evident at the northeast Atlantic Coast at the
same sites noted for lead and cadmium, but now we add Elliott Bay and
Commencement Bay in Puget Sound (WA). Mercury contamination is highest
in Salem and Boston Harbors, and at Seal Beach, California.
Organic compounds are even more widespread than the inorganic metals.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of petroleum
derivatives, several of which are known human carcinogens--are found in
high concentrations in Boston, Salem, Narragansett Bay, Raritan Bay,
western Long Island Sound, and San Diego Harbor, but they are also
found in the Casco River in Maine, the Merrimack River (MA), Buzzard's
Bay (near Cape Cod in MA), in Delaware Bay (NJ, PA and DE), in the
lower Chesapeake Bay (MD and VA), in the St. Johns River (FL), in the
Mississippi River delta (AL, MS,and LA) in several parts of San
Francisco Bay, and in Commencement and Elliott Bays. It is not quite
(or not yet) true that the entire coast of the U.S. is contaminated
with cancer-causing PAHs, but it is true that every part of our coastal
waters has "hot spots" that are severely contaminated with these
exotic, dangerous chemicals. These chemicals inevitably concentrate in
the fish, which make their way to our dinner plates.
NOAA will be releasing more details about contaminants in the nation's
coastal waters and fish in the fall of 1987. To remain aware of these
developments, contact: John A. Calder, National Status and Trends
Program, NOAA, Office of Oceanography, Rockville, MD 20852; phone (301)
Where do these pollutants come from? The U.S. Congress's Office of
Technology Assessment recently released Wastes in Marine Environments,
which can serve as an excellent reference book for anyone who takes
ocean pollution seriously. It tries to pull together in one place (a)
the laws and regulations covering ocean dumping, (b) an inventory of
waste sources, state by state; (c) economic benefits derived from use
of the oceans for commercial fishing and for recreation; (d) the
different types of marine (ocean) environments and how they react to
pollution; (e) the impacts of waste pollutants on human health; (f)
programs intended to control industrial pollution; (g) programs
intended to control municipal sewage pollution.
The OTA report says, "In the absence of additional measures, new or
continued degradation will occur in many estuaries and some coastal
waters around the country during the next few decades (even in some
areas that exhibited improvement in the past)."
The report is fully documented, with a bibliography of 713 published
sources. Anyone interested in the oceans will benefit from owning this
mild-mannered, 312-page report. Wastes in Marine Environments is
available for $13.00 from U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington,
DC 20402; ask for document No. 052-003-01062-3. Visa, Mastercard and
Choice charge cards accepted; phone (202) 783-3238.
Bringing a more critical eye to bear on ocean pollution is the Coastal
Alliance, a group of scientists and lawyers devoted to protecting the
nation's marine resources. They have undertaken an assessment of "the
state of the sea," starting with New England where so much of the
nation's commercial fish originate. They asked three marine scientists
to review all the information collected during the past 20 years about
chemical contamination of New England's fish and shellfish. The
contamination is disturbing, but what is worse is the picture that
emerges of government failure. At every level, regulatory programs have
failed to prevent massive dumping of toxic chemicals into fisheries.
After contamination is allowed to occur, monitoring programs are too
small to pinpoint the dangers, to warn people away from eating
contaminated fish. For example, the federal Food and Drug
Administration collected just 51 samples of fish products on U.S.
markets in 1981, and only 921 samples in 1982. Even at the 1982 level,
the FDA program looked for chemical contamination in less than one one-
thousandth of one percent of the fish sold in U.S. markets that year.
"Most seafood in New England is not dangerous to eat," says author Paul
Hauge, "but there are pockets of contamination that can make a trip to
the fish store a game of Russian roulette.... We must break the habit
of thinking of the sea as a dump."
The Coast Alliance can be reached at 218 D Street, SE, Washington, DC
20003; phone (202) 466-5045, but the short report, Contamination of New
England's Fish and Shellfish is available free from the Conservation
Law Foundation, 3 Joy Street, Boston, MA 02108; phone (617) 742-2540;
the Foundation is also distributing the full scientific study upon
which the shorter report is based, free while supplies last.
Descriptor terms: studies; shellfish; finfish; ota; statistics; coast
alliance; conservation law foundation; fda; food safety; pcbs;
pesticides; noaa; doc; national status and trends program; boston
harbor; salem, ma; narragansett bay, ri; raritan bay, nj; long island
sound; san diego harbor; casco river, me; ca; ma; nj; ny; de; delaware
bay; md; va; chesapeake bay; pa; merrimack river; buzzard's bay; ri; st
john's river, fl; mississippi river; ms; al; la; san francisco bay;
commencement bay, wa; elliott bay, wa; wa; pahs; san pablo bay, ca;
hunter's point, ca; seal beach, ca; copper; lead; mercury; estuaries;