Around the Water Cooler: Rivers offer food and fun (but only when clean)

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

This week, a colleague handed me the City Paper with an article about how thousands in the Washington, D.C. metro area eat catfish caught locally in the Anacostia River. The article saddened me for a variety of reasons. Mostly because fishing in our rivers, especially urban rivers, brings with it a host of public health concerns. Quite frankly, with combined sewer overflows and stormwater runoff flushing pathogens and chemicals into them, many of our rivers are kinda dirty. Yuck.

But despite the health advisories and warnings that consuming fish from the river can be hazardous to health, many people still do it. The article highlights a survey (partially funded by EPA, other government agencies and stakeholders) conducted to study fishing in the Anacostia  and determine the extent of consumption and sharing of fish from the river; awareness and attitudes among anglers about potential health risks; and, strategies for lessening the consumption of contaminated fish.

The study shows that the reasons people fish in the Anacostia are extremely complex, and are mostly related to economics and culture.

The good news is that EPA is working with local officials and stakeholders in Washington, D.C.  to clean up the Anacostia so it can be fishable and swimmable again. Earlier this year the Anacostia River Revitalization Fund was established.  The fund, which will invest $1 million in restoration activities this year, with a total goal of investing $5 million over the next three years, will be used to protect and restore the Anacostia River and to create a national model for watershed conservation. The National Fish and Wildlife Fund, in partnership with EPA and the DC Department of the Environment and with funding from corporate sponsors, created the fund, which will award grants to local partnering organizations.

In addition, EPA scientists have developed a variety of tools and models to look at ecological exposure.  This research on water is spread over several areas: detection, assessment, function, and outcomes so that we know what our water has been exposed to, can assess it and ultimately ensure that it is safe for drinking, fishing and even swimming .

The Anacostia River watershed is just one of many that need our help and attention to keep it clean so that it can once again be a source of food and recreation that we can be proud of.

To help protect your watershed, learn more here.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research team and a frequent “Around the Water Cooler” contributor.