Fishing in contaminated waters: Knowledge and risk perception of hazards by fishermen in new york city

Joanna Burger, Kevin Staine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Risk perception studies show that people may underestimate significant risks while overestimating others. Further, government agencies may assume the public becomes aware of risks when the agency has issued advisories, when in reality a segment of the population remains unaware of these warnings. This article reports on a survey of people fishing on the catchment basins of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in New York City. Of the 154 groups interviewed, only 19% believed the waters or fish were contaminated or unsafe, despite state warnings to the contrary. Fishermen made nearly five visits per month, and ate an average of three fish a week, (remaining fish were eaten by their families) and fish were usually fried. Most people believed the fish were safe to eat, or that they could recognize if one was spoiled. Thus, most people were ignoring the health advisories on consuming fish from these waters. We suggest that these fishermen are unaware of health advisories, or ignore them because the fishing situation is familiar, voluntary, pleasurable, and has not resulted in their illness. Since they believe they can determine if the fish are bad from smell and appearance, they have changed their own analysis from the unknown (chronic, delayed risks from toxics) to the known (immediate illness), lowering their perceived risk, but not the actual risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-105
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1993

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution


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