JHA launches Vietnamese Fisher Alternatives Pilot

JHA is proud to announce that it is one of the recipients of a grant from the City of Seattle’s Duwamish River Opportunity Fund. The Vietnamese Fisher Alternatives Pilot project will establish and interview a Vietnamese fisher advisory group to explore their beliefs and values around fishing and well-being as well as searching for alternatives to fishing the Duwamish River that will not affect their food security or cultural beliefs. Outreach will be conducted into the Vietnamese community to determine which alternatives will be most viable. Alternatives could range from educational messages to supplying maps for other fishing grounds to constructing fish ponds in local neighborhoods. JHA is conducting the project in collaboration with International Community Health Services and Public Health Seattle King County.

The Duwamish River Opportunity Fund was established in response to a recommendation from the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) for the Proposed Cleanup Plan for the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund Site. The sediments of the Lower Duwamish Waterway (LDW) Superfund Site are currently being cleaned up to protect human health and the environment and the HIA was written to identify whether unintended health consequences could occur from the cleanup. One of the major concerns that emerged from the HIA was that despite a proposed 17 year cleanup, resident fish and shellfish are likely to still be unsafe for human consumption. Institutional controls (ICs), including fish advisories and outreach programs will have to be in effect, perhaps in perpetuity, to protect the vulnerable populations (which includes at least 15 distinct cultural communities) who fish the river. We know that eating seafood is very good for your health but at the same time, how do we protect subsistence fishers, their families and friends who are eating contaminated fish or shellfish? Current fish advisories are not effective because they are placing the burden of behavior change on the fisher who may not be able or willing to change his/her behavior because of food insecurity and/or cultural and spiritual reasons. As one Tribal member said “It’s our spiritual food so it feeds our soul; so it might poison our body, but then we’d rather nourish our soul.”

These populations have significant health disparities relative to the general population and improving their health has been prioritized as a major equity objective at the city, county, state, and national levels. Public Health Seattle King County, the Washington State Department of Health, and other community health-based organizations including International Community Health Services (ICHS) have expressed concern about how to work with vulnerable subsistence fisher populations before, during, and after the Superfund Site cleanup activities. In the desire to remove the burden of pollution on vulnerable populations more information is needed about alternatives to fishing the Duwamish River that do not ask fishers to change their behavior around food security or spiritual and cultural beliefs. This pilot project is starting with the Vietnamese population because it is one of the larger subsistence fisher populations on the Duwamish River.

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