Fishing and the consumption of seafood is a dietary foundation in many Asian cultures - either due to a lack of suitable, large scale food resources like cattle or poultry, or because of isolated geography, or because of religious or cultural preferences. Even as immigrants, they often bring their preferences for seafood with them.
Along the west coast of the United States, you can often find local Asian fishermen casting a line over piers or into the surf. Unfortunately, much of what they catch consists of small bottom feeders and these fish can often carry a lot more than a savory taste. They also can carry an unhealthy level of pollutants, including pesticides that have been banned for decades.
Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded a collective of Southern California environmental, cultural and educational groups the agency's Environmental Justice Achievement Award for the group's efforts in educating local fishermen as to the dangers in consuming fish from the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Part of the Palos Verde Shelf, an EPA declared Superfund site, the peninsula contains one of the nation's largest deposits of DDT and PCBs, dumped into the waters by factories over 25 years ago.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the organizations receiving the award include Boat People SOS, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Asian Youth Center, Heal the Bay, and St. Anselm's Cross-Cultural Community Center. Collectively they distribute brochures and conduct outreach campaigns to reach the, primarily, Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen who catch local fish like white croaker and other bottom feeders.
"For years now, this group has gone out of its way to tell people 'Don't fish here, and if you're going to, don't eat the head or the tail and the skin, because the toxins accumulate in the fatty parts of the fish'," said EPA spokesperson Francisco Arcaute.
Congratulations to all members of the group. Although it has been many years, let's hope that someday the waters are once again clear and a dwindling number of fishermen can safely pull up a fish or two while the majority of us are relying on aquaculture for our seafood requirements.