Commentary: Beware the Fish You Catch

Experts say poor and minority communities are especially at risk of eating fish tainted by pollutants.

Though not often acknowledged by many, environmentalism and the Black community have gone hand-in-hand for decades.


As BET reported last year, the relationship has its roots in slavery: “Although African-Americans are becoming more interested in today’s green movement, many don’t realize that slaves are original arbiters of the trend; they utilized parts of the animals that were thrown away by their masters, and they planted their own vegetables and saved scraps for compost, among many other things,” BET wrote. “And of course, we’ve always heard our grandmothers tell us not to use so much paper, or to turn off the lights at night. Although these things aren’t labeled as ‘green’ in the mainstream, they are.”


Another “green” thing that’s come naturally to many African-Americans over the years is hunting and fishing for their own food, thus avoiding the environmental problems that come with factory farms and shipping via polluting trucks. Unfortunately, while good for the environment, it appears as if being self-sufficient when it comes to meals may ultimately be harmful to some Black families.


According to a new article from Rae Tyson in Environmental Health News, Blacks and other minority groups who rely on fishing to feed themselves may be at risk of eating toxins thanks to polluted waterways leading to polluted fish:


Consumption of contaminated fish “is an especially pressing concern for many communities of color, low-income communities, tribes and other indigenous peoples, whose members may consume fish, aquatic plants, and wildlife in greater quantities than does the general population,” according to a landmark Environmental Protection Agency study published nearly a decade ago.


Experts and activists call the government efforts to protect people of color from tainted fish woefully inadequate. In a 2012 Cornell University survey of more than 1,700 licensed anglers in the Great Lakes area, 61 percent of whites said they followed fish advisories, while only 50 percent of non-whites said they did.


While the pollutants in fish are not healthy for anyone, experts say they can be particularly harmful to pregnant women and children. Unfortunately, many of the people with whom Tyson spoke weren’t aware of the risks of eating fish they caught themselves from tainted waters. Still others said that, unhealthy or no, they need to feed their families, so polluted fish would have to do.


It’s a depressing choice to have to make, but apparently it’s a reality for more and more Americans: Eat nothing, or eat fish with poison in them. That’s a dilemma that shouldn’t exist in the richest nation on Earth.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter. 

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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