Event Highlight: Public Health Café on Seafood Safety

Discussion time at the PH Café
Our October 9th Public Health Café about safe seafood drew an energetic group that pretty much packed the private dining room at Chaco Canyon Cafe in West Seattle. Those who attended included folks from the West Seattle community, UW, EPA, the Seattle/King County Public Health and WA State Department of Health. Half were attending their first Public Health Cafe.

UW toxicologist and risk assessment expert Elaine Faustman talked about Puget Sound seafood. She said we have about the best wild fish population in the world right here in the PNW, and we should  protect it, enjoy it, and eat it. She advocated for cleaning industrial contaminants from the water and sediment,  and for preventing new contamination.

As for choosing which seafood to eat, Elaine recommends fish and shellfish that are highest in omega-3 fatty acids; for example, salmon. Farmed fish with the same diet as wild fish will have the same nutrition, but some farmed fish are fed food contaminated with PCBs, and are contaminated as a result. High density pens of farmed fish may also be given antibiotics. Fish farming needs to be regulated more carefully. Elaine advocates eating wild, free-range fish because it's likely safer, and it's more appealing to eat fish that has lived wild and free, like it's more appealing to eat free-range chicken.

For guidance on choosing your seafood, check out the Healthy Fish Guide from the WA Dept of Health. Seafood is an excellent source of lean protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and we should eat it, especially in the Puget Sound with its wide choice of fresh, local, wild seafood. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone eat at least 2 meals of seafood per week.

Alberto Rodriguez, Program Manager at the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, told us about the last 100 years on the Duwamish. The river was dredged and straightened and has been home to Seattle industry for a century. Now it's a Superfund site which means it's one of the most polluted places in the U.S. It's also a low-income and very diverse neighborhood whose residents include new immigrants, subsistence fishermen, and tribal members. The Muckleshoot and Suquamish Tribes have fishing rights on the river, and it is the home of the Duwamish Tribe.

Alberto told us the river looks clean to someone from the developing world. When it's part of your culture to catch your own dinner, other people are fishing, and you don't know whether to trust the government and its fish advisories, you may just ignore the fish advisory signs. It is important to communicate the dangers and, most importantly, to clean up the river so that fish-eating residents and tribal members have access to local seafood that's safe to eat.

Audience members reported they enjoyed this Public Health Cafe and the ambience at West Seattle's Chaco Canyon. As part of the evaluation at the end of the event, they were asked to write a short public health message that summarized what they were taking away from the event. Here's a sample of what they came up with:
  • Fish: Keep 'em Cleaner
  • The Signs Don't Lie. Fish Here and You Might Die.
  • Fish for Dinner? Make it a Winner!
  • Eat Fish, It's Wild.
  • On the Duwamish, Salmon are the Healthier Choice
The next Public Health Cafe will be on Tuesday, January 22 at Chaco Canyon Cafe, West Seattle. The topic is pesticides and food. 

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