Environmental Factor – July 2022: The North Carolina Fish Forum turns research collaboration into action


Researchers from three NIEHS-funded universities and their stakeholders organized the North Carolina Fish Forum in 2019 to understand the process of establishing fish consumption advisories and the barriers to communicating them more effectively. Three years later, collaborators continue to reveal new information about contaminants in fish, inform more health protection advisories, and communicate risks to various groups.

Fishing is a beloved pastime and, for many, an affordable source of local food. However, some types of fish may contain potentially harmful contaminants. Fish consumption advisories help people understand which fish are safe to eat, for whom, and in what amounts.

Tools to reduce exposure, risk

Organized by researchers and staff from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Duke University, and North Carolina State University (NCSU) who are supported by the NIEHS Research Superfund Program (SRP), the forum brought together people from communities across North Carolina, nonprofit organizations and local health departments. The objectives of the forum were to better understand the process of establishing and communicating fish consumption advisories (and how people perceive advisories), identify areas for improvement, and foster collaboration.

At the start of the project in early 2019, the Fish Forum worked with a visual note taker, Mike Schlegel, who helped capture a visual summary of key points and discussion. Pictured L-R: Katy May, NCSU; Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Duke; Megan Lane, UNC; Schlegel; Bryan Luukinen, Duke; Kathleen Gray, UNC; Catherine Kastleman, Duke; and Sam Cohen, Duke. (Photo courtesy of Duke SRP Center)

The result white paper highlighted key challenges identified at the forum, including limited awareness of advice and lack of collaboration between agencies. The team outlined next steps and opportunities to improve advisory effectiveness, such as creating toolkits to communicate risk to diverse populations.

“Together with our Fish Forum collaborators, we are putting research into action to reduce exposure to harmful contaminants in fish,” said Kathleen Gray, Ph.D., who leads the Community Engagement Cores (CECs) at the UNC SRP Center. and at the NIEHS. -finance Environmental Health and Sensitivity Center.

Megan Lane, left, and the NC Fish Forum group and stakeholders Megan Lane, left, research translation associate at the UNC SRP Center, shares insights from a small group discussion with the larger North Carolina Fish Forum group and stakeholders, including the scientific administrator of the health SRP Heather Henry, Ph.D., middle. (Photo courtesy of UNC SRP Center)

“Findings from the Fish Forum have not only informed the areas we have focused our attention on, including conducting additional testing in the Lower Cape Fear River region, but they have also led to new collaborations with UNC and the NCSU focused on supporting local health departments and nonprofit organizations. more efficiently,” said Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Ph.D.(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/people/details.cfm?Person_ID=40924)who leads the CEC in Duke University SRP Center(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=P42ES010356).

Stop, check, enjoy!

To increase awareness of fishing advisories, the Duke SRP Center team worked with community partners to launch the Stop, check, enjoy! educational campaign, suitable for subsistence fishermen on the Cape Fear River. The campaign includes a video seriesa customizable social media toolkitand other awareness material in English and Spanish about fishing and preparing fish safely.

UNC SRP graduate students share information on local fish consumption advisories UNC SRP graduate students share information about local fish consumption advisories with anglers at Lake Crabtree County Park. (Photo courtesy of UNC SRP Center)

The team hosted several awareness events for communities in the area, such as the Go Fish Fest, which educated more than 300 attendees on safe fish consumption through games, educational booths, talks by community leaders and cooking demonstrations by local chefs.

Go Fish Fest attendees gather materials, including a calendar and a wallet card. Go Fish Fest attendees returned home with materials, including a calendar with recipes for low-mercury fish during the seasons when they are most commonly caught, and a wallet card containing valuable information on the capture and consumption of fish from the Cape Fear River. . (Photo courtesy of Alan Cradick)

Improve fish reviews

Recent research conducted by the Duke SRP Center on the Cape Fear River revealed elevated levels of metals in fish samples. These findings informed the decision of a state regulator in update consumption notices for several species and locations along the river.

Researchers are currently developing a resource on collecting fish samples, working with agencies to review data for risk assessments, and incorporating data into fish consumption advisories.

Veronica Carter (left) and Dean Neff (right) at the Go Fish Fest Veronica Carter (left) and Dean Neff (right) at the Go Fish Fest. Carter, a board member of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, and Neff, a chef in Wilmington, North Carolina, are working closely with Duke SRP Center researchers to develop effective communication strategies about safe consumption of fish. (Photo courtesy of Alan Cradick)

“The Fish Forum helped us understand that agencies, community organizations and academics all collect fish tissue samples,” explained Katie May(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/people/details.cfm?Person_ID=46859)who leads the CEC in NCSU SRP Center(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/Program_detail.cfm?Project_ID=P42ES031009) and funded NIEHS Center for Human Health and the Environment. “If these groups collect samples in a way that health services can use for analysis, they can help inform new opinions.”

The team is also working with health departments across the state to develop more effective and broader communication strategies to raise awareness of the potential health risks associated with eating wild fish.

“Agencies responsible for communicating fishing advisories are often resource-constrained,” said Chiara Klein, Duke SRP CEC coordinator. “With NCSU in the lead, we’re creating a playbook to help local health departments confidently communicate about these risks, especially to affected populations.”

(Mali Velasco is a Research and Communications Specialist for MDB Inc., a NIEHS Superfund research program contractor.)


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