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Addressing the Risk

Our study of Anacostia River anglers shows the startling extent of fish consumption and sharing from those polluted waters.  Through focus group and riverbank interviews, we identified anglers’ level of awareness of the health risks, and the best techniques to communicate with this multi-lingual audience to lessen consumption and sharing.

This comprehensive study was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and Chesapeake Bay Trust.  The study identified an overpowering urge on the part of anglers to share fish, due to hunger in the neighborhoods surrounding the river.  We examined the tools and messages that are currently being used to communicate with the public, and recommended a new approach based on our research – a simpler and more direct message, delivered in more appropriate ways through community-based channels.

While it may not be surprising that contaminated fish are being shared in the community, the extent and ingrained culture of sharing fish are surprising. The partners to this study will use its findings to create and implement a public awareness campaign, targeted and framed as effectively as possible, to lessen the problem of contaminated fish consumption.

More challenging, this report identifies a complex, interlocking set of factors that must be addressed together to lessen the consumption of contaminated fish. As an outcome, the sponsors and advisors of this study hope to engage leaders and citizens of the broader community in a discussion that will address not just fishing, but the long-term and sometimes difficult challenges of clean water, human health, and food security, as well.

For more about this issue:

Chesapeake Bay Journal, "‘Even if a person knows about the risk, they are still hungry today’ Anglers continue to ply the Anacostia despite pollution, contaminated fish advisories."  

National Geographic Daily News, "Fishing the Forgotten River in the Nation's Capital. Thousands of people consume fish from Washington DC's highly polluted Anacostia River, despite safety warnings."

Washington Post, "On Anacostia, some don't catch tainted-fish warning."

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