Fishing in the St Lawrence River is a practice undertaken by thousands of anglers each year and deeply tied to the lifeways of Indigenous peoples. Fish consumption advisories (FCAs) are public guidance intended to help all fishers make informed decisions about the safe consumption of their catch. However, what happens if there are multiple advisories in place in a watershed? Such is the case in the Upper St Lawrence River, which spans the traditional territory of multiple Indigenous Nations as well as the jurisdictions of Ontario (Canada), Quebec (Canada), and New York State (USA).
Our research examined the similarities and differences in FCA programs across jurisdictions in the Upper St Lawrence River.
Read this open access paper on the FACETS website.
We find an overall lack of coordination in fish monitoring and differences in consumption advice for a waterway in which fish, contaminants, and fishers all move across political borders. For example, for yellow perch caught from the St. Lawrence River in Ontario where mercury is the dominant contaminant of concern, the general population is advised to consume up to eight to 32 meals per month (depending on the size of the fish) and children/women of childbearing age (i.e., sensitive population) are advised to consume up to four to 16 meals. However, across the river in New York State, the general population is advised to eat only up to four meals per month of yellow perch and children/women of childbearing age are advised “Do Not Eat” due to concern of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Differing guidance can be confusing for fishers and make it difficult for individuals and communities to make decisions that affect their health. Importantly, not everyone bears the impacts of contaminated fish evenly. Women of childbearing age, children, anglers who rely on recreationally caught fish for food security, and Indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by the health and cultural risks of contaminated fish. FCAs also generally do not consider the risks or benefits of different eating practices. Indigenous communities, for example, have traditionally eaten a greater range of parts of the fish (e.g., skin, organs) in addition to the flesh, and these parts can have different contaminant loads.
Moving forward, we recommend four key steps for improving FCAs: (1) developing a shared and transparent approach to monitoring fish and contaminants, (2) integrating cultural food practices, (3) conducting more outreach with angler populations, and (4) upholding the self-determination of Indigenous communities in the development and communication of FCAs.
Read the paper — Governing for transboundary environmental justice: a scientific and policy analysis of fish consumption advisory programs in the Upper St Lawrence River by K. Lowitt, A. Francis, L. Gunther, B.N. Madison, L. McGaughey, A. Echendu, M. Kaur, K.A. Roussel, Z. St Pierre, and A. Weppler.