Tribal Government & News

State adopts Tribally endorsed fish consumption rate

A highest-in-the-nation fish consumption rate should eventually translate into cleaner Oregon waterways after the state Environmental Quality Commission adopted a Tribally endorsed 175 grams per day benchmark at its June 16 meeting in Pendleton.

Since 2004, Oregon Tribes, including the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, have worked to increase the state's fish consumption rate. The rate affects Oregon water quality because the higher the fish consumption rate, the cleaner any discharge being put in state waterways must be.

"I consider it a major victory for the Tribe, and all Oregon Tribes," said Tribal Ceded Lands Manager Mike Karnosh. "Tribal Council has played a very active role in supporting this increase in the fish consumption rate."

Karnosh said Tribal Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy, Tribal Council member Jack Giffen Jr. and former Tribal Council member June Sell-Sherer all testified before the Environmental Quality Commission in support of the higher rate through the four- to five-year process.

Karnosh also cited Tribal member Michael Wilson, who is manager of the Natural Resources Division, Tribal Environmental Resource Specialist Brandy Humphreys and Tribal member Kathleen Feehan-George, who worked for the Umatilla Tribe, for their work getting the rate approved.

In 2004, the state adopted the Environmental Protection Agency's recommended fish consumption rate of 17.5 grams per day - about a cracker's worth in size. However, Oregon Tribal leaders objected to that criteria because it did not protect Tribal members who traditionally eat greater amounts of fish.

The Grand Ronde Tribe originally asked for a safe level of 389 grams per day while other Tribes asked for levels ranging from 175 to 300 grams per day. A compromise was reached at 175 grams per day, specifying that that level would keep 95 percent of fish eaters safe.

In 2005, the state Department of Environmental Quality started the process for reconsidering the fish consumption rate and in October 2008 recommended the use of 175 grams of fish per day as the rate. At that time, the commission instructed the department to pursue rule revisions to implement the higher rate.

After almost three years of study about the environmental and economic effects of the 175 grams rate, the Environmental Quality Commission approved it on a 4-1 vote.

The new rule of 175 grams per day is equal to 23 eight-ounce fish servings per month.

The changes tighten human health criteria for more than 100 pollutants being placed in Oregon waterways, including mercury, flame retardants, PCBs, dioxins and pesticides.

"People with permits to discharge contaminants into Oregon waterways will basically have to comply with the higher standard of cleanliness," Karnosh said. "It's not a silver bullet … there are issues it will not address, but it is an important benchmark that says, 'This is how clean the water has to be.' "

Karnosh said an important decision in the process occurred when the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that salmon and other anadromous fish would be included in the fish consumption rate.

"That was a bold landmark decision," Karnosh said.

The new fish consumption rate will take effect upon EPA approval, expected in the fall or early in 2012.

The commission is a five-member citizen panel appointed by the governor for four-year terms to serve as the Department of Environmental Quality's policy and rulemaking board.

Includes information from The Oregonian.