Eating large amounts of Port Angeles Harbor crab could raise risks of cancer and why that matters

The Peninsula Daily News recently covered the release of a study that points out, unsurprisingly, that eating crab and other shellfish from Port Angeles Harbor could give you cancer:

Eating a lot of crab from Port Angeles Harbor could increase the risk of cancer, according to 13-year-old research presented to the Clallam County Board of Health on Tuesday.

The report issued in February 2005 stems from samples taken in 2002 mostly off the old Rayonier mill site, a firmer pulp mill that became a cleanup site in 2000.

In 2007, a health warning against eating crab or shellfish from the harbor was issued.

The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe sought an update on the warning, but neither the state departments of Ecology nor Health had funds to take new samples or evaluate them, according to Amy Leang, health department toxicologist.

The story pointed out that no one actually eats shellfish exclusively from Port Angeles Harbor, so the increased risk of cancer is only potential at this point. But, pointing that out misses the point, according to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

Because tribes are limited by treaties with the federal government to where they can harvest fish and shellfish, cutting off any source of food is catastrophic. This is why the Lower Elwha Tribe spent over a century to remove dams on their river. The dams cut off access to a vital food source for them, the tribe couldn’t pick up and move somewhere else to fish.

The same is true for pollution in Port Angeles Harbor (pdf link):

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe wants to be able to fish and harvest shellfish in Port Angeles Harbor as their ancestors did, to achieve this goal this much more robust consumption rate than the (lesser, more general) default must be used.

The Tribe is trying to increase consumption in an attempt to improve over all tribal health. The Tribe The Tribe is trying to survive. is trying to survive.

The Elwha are not asking for special treatment, they are asking for equal protection from contaminants. The default rates are considered to be safe for the average consumer. The Elwha consume much more than average and therefore require a more thorough cleanup for equal protection.

Russ Hepfer, the vice-chair of the Lower Elwha tribal council, talked about why a robust fish consumption rate matters to him and his tribe: