United States Environmental Protection Agency

Seafood Consumption Study

Just off the coast of some of Southern California’s most famous beaches lies one of the largest superfund sites in the nation. Stretching from Santa Monica to Seal Beach, the Palos Verdes Shelf was polluted for decades by millions of pounds of toxic chemicals. That stopped in the 1980s, thankfully. But now, the US Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with Heal the Bay and local community groups, is charged with cleaning up the site while keeping the public safe. For many Southern California anglers, fishing isn’t a hobby. It’s a way to provide food for their families. The trouble is, many species of fish caught along the Shelf are too toxic to consume.

The campaign

In 2013, we spearheaded a year-long effort to research the fishing and consumption behaviors of anglers along the Palos Verdes Shelf. We surveyed nearly 700 anglers at 61 spots along the superfund site so we could learn more about how the fisherman behaved, such as when and where they fished, what type of fish they caught and, most importantly, what type of fish they ate and how they prepared it.

Our strategy

The EPA planned to use the results of our survey to shape policy, so we knew we needed a statistically rigorous survey. So our strategy was simple: assemble a top notch survey and analysis team, design a survey so data could be compared over time, institute the highest standards of quality assurance and quality control and talk to a lot of anglers.

What we did

We put together a Tactical Advisory Committee (TAC) that brought together scientists, activists, local and federal agencies and an ichthyologist. The TAC helped shape the survey, which was reviewed and finalized by SGA’s statistician, and design a master sampling plan.

Then we hit the piers, marinas and beaches along the Palos Verdes Shelf and began interviewing anglers in six different languages, including English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Tagalog. After a year of windswept hair and salty skin, we dove into the data. Our findings were statistically rigorous after multiple tiers of segmentation. That’s statistics speak for we could identify with confidence the consumption patterns of any particular group we identified, for instance Asian anglers who fished solely from piers. And we wrote a comprehensive report, which the EPA has used to determine how they should tackle the health risks of eating contaminated fish in the future.