A framework and information needs for the management of the risks from consumption of self-caught fish

Joanna Burger, Michael Gochfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations

Abstract

Governmental agencies deal with the potential risk from consuming fish contaminated with toxic chemicals by issuing fish consumption advisories. Yet such advisories are often ignored by the general public, who continue to fish and consume self-caught fish that are the subject of advisories and are from contaminated waters. Further, people are often unaware of specific warnings (which species to avoid, who is vulnerable, when they are vulnerable). In this paper we propose a more inclusive framework for examining consumption behavior of self-caught fish and identify information needs for effective communication. We include not only the usual variables that are used for calculating risk from fish consumption (meal frequency, meal size, contaminant levels) but also other aspects of behavior that contribute to risk. These include attitudes (trust, risk aversion, environmental concerns), behavior (sources of information, cultural mores, personal preferences), exposure (physical proximity, ingestion rates, bioavailability, target tissues), contaminant levels, individual host differences, and hazards (levels of contaminants). We suggest that attitudes and behavior shape risk as much as exposure and hazards and that all four of these factors must be considered in risk management. Factors such as gender, age, pregnancy status, and nutrition all influence who is at risk, while other consumption factors affect these at-risk populations, including meals/week, meal size, cooking method, fish species and sizes eaten, and years of fish consumption. Similarly, contaminant levels in fish vary by fish species, fish size and age, part of the fish, and collection location. Elucidating the risk to individual consumers involves integrating this range of factors, and managing the risk likewise involves incorporating these factors. We suggest that development of appropriate advisories and compliance with advisories will occur only if managers, risk assessors, and public policy makers consider this whole range of factors and not just the traditional fish consumption rate (often underestimated) and contaminant levels in fish (often undersampled). Merely informing the public of contaminant levels or the risk from contaminants will not ensure a public that has enough information to make informed decision, or to be in compliance with consumption advisories, or to effect changes in consumption behavior where public health is at risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-285
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental research
Volume101
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)

Keywords

  • Consumption
  • Consumption advisories
  • Contaminants
  • Fish
  • Health benefits
  • Mercury
  • PCBs
  • Risk assessment
  • Risk management
  • Risk perception
  • Risk/benefit balancing

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