Why we should keep salmon in the fish consumption rate equation

An editorial over the weekend arguing for water quality standards and a fish consumption rate that benefits industry had this seemingly innocent passage:

They also need to recognize how different species interact with their environment. For example, salmon — a popular choice among Washington consumers — spend half their lives in the open ocean, which Washington’s water standards don’t control.

Industry groups have used this argument in recent years to argue against a more realistic fish consumption rate. The impact of not including salmon, one of the most popular products of our local waters, would be a much less protecting fish consumption rate.

Thankfully, Catherine O’Neill from the Center for Progressive Reform, wrote a fairly strong take-down of leaving salmon out. First, Puget Sound chinook show a much higher level of pollution than chinook that return to other west coast rivers:

O’Neill & West concluded that “the elevated PCB levels observed for Puget Sound Chinook salmon relative to coastal populations were probably associated with differences in PCB contamination in the environments they inhabit or with differences in diet.” O’Neill & West also found that, although salmon uptake some PCBs from freshwater environments, the elevated concentrations of PCBs found in adult Chinook “were accumulated during residence in marine habitats rather than riverine habitats in the region.” They reported that “adult Chinook salmon that had migrated as subyearlings from the Duwamish River, the most highly PCB-contaminated river draining into Puget Sound, accumulated the vast majority (>96%) of PCBs during their marine life history phase, whereas there was little PCB contribution from freshwater.”

The phrase “during residence in marine habitats” has been missused by industry representives commenting on the FCR process:

We can now see the mischief in NCASI’s characterization of these studies’ findings. NCASI’s statement that “the science clearly shows that >95% of the contaminant body burden found in adult salmon is accumulated in the open ocean” (emphasis added) treats the marine waters of the inland Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca as if they were the open Pacific Ocean. NCASI’s characterization implies that the contaminants found in salmon don’t come from sources and waters for which the state of Washington has regulatory responsibility, because “the open ocean” is beyond its jurisdiction.

These marine environments have been contaminated by industrial and residential development in the cities of Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle, Everett, Bellingham, Port Gamble, Port Townsend, and Port Angeles. They have been impacted by agriculture and silviculture throughout the basin. They receive “point” and “non-point” sources of water pollution, and harbor sediments laced with toxic contaminants.

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