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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Commitment to Environmental Justice Leads Service to Study Anacostia River Fishing

Group fishing at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park
Group fishing at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park. Photo by Kim Lambert/USFWS | MORE PHOTOS

Approximately 17,000 people, many African American or Hispanic, eat fish they catch out of the Anacostia River each year, and often share their fish with hungry people, according to a study commissioned by the Anacostia Watershed Society.  But the watershed contains toxic hotspots caused by pollution such as PCBs, PHAs, metals and other compounds for local facilities.

As part of its commitment to Environmental Justice, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with Anacostia Watershed Society, University of Maryland College Park and the Anacostia Community Museum to study the patterns of urban anglers (subsistence, recreational and cultural) and fish contaminants in the Anacostia River region. 

Environmental Justice recognizes that low-income or disadvantaged populations of color are often unfairly burdened by environmental hazards and unhealthy land uses, and may have higher exposure and health risks.  And the Service collaborates with its stakeholders and partners to minimize or eliminate these hazards.

On a hot Saturday morning in July, the partners sponsored a fishing day as part of the Community-Based Assessment of Exposure for Subsistence Fishers in the Anacostia River Region (CAESARR), a study about people who fish or consume fish from the Anacostia River Watershed.     The event was a fun opportunity for participants to learn how to fish, get information about the river and health issues, and catch fish for the project.  About 45 people attended and the fish were processed for scientific research.  Estimates on the amount of PCBs, metals, contaminants and pesticides in the fish will be issued to urban anglers when the study is done.   

In many ways the river is a well-kept secret for the recreational opportunities it offers, including biking, paddling, and surprising beauty and solitude.  “It is in our hands to protect our planet and these beautiful species living in it,” according the Sonia Banyuls of Spain, as she walked along the river banks.  Lisa Peterson brought seven Boy Scouts to the event because it was a “great fishing opportunity and so educational for the kids.”

Dr. Sacoby Wilson, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, says, “The human health consequences of high fish consumption by vulnerable populations in the Anacostia River and a highly contaminant watershed are important public health issues.”

Dr. Wilson adds that there has been limited research on fish contaminants in the region, so it hasn’t been possible to establish exposure and risk assessments.

In addition to the work of the partnership, the Service is completing a report titled Analysis of Contaminant Concentrations in Fish Tissue Collected for the Waters of the District of Columbia.  For this project, the Chesapeake Bay Field Office sent 38 samples of fish from Anacostia and Potomac rivers for study for contaminant concentrations.  The District will use the results to update the current Public Health Advisory, which warns the public not to consume bottom feeding species and limit their consumption of other species.  The report will be available in about two months according to Fred Pinkney, of the Chesapeake Bay Field Office.

Beyond enhancing fishing safety, understanding exposures for these populations can help with the Anacostia revitalization efforts.  

The Anacostia River flows from Maryland into the District of Columbia, where it empties into the Potomac River about one mile from the U.S. Capitol.   The 8.4- mile tidal river is part of a 176-square-mile watershed that is home to roughly 860,000 people as well as 43 species of fish and more than 200 species of birds.  The Service’s Environmental Justice Program website can be found at http://www.fws.gov/environmental-justice/

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