Fish Consumption Education Collaborative – US Environmental Protection Agency
Research and Surveys
The Fish Contamination Education Collaborative (FCEC), the public outreach and education component of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, needed a public health campaign to prevent and reduce the consumption of fish contaminated with DDTs and PCBs that could increase the likelihood of cancer.
From the 1940s to the 1970s, millions of pounds of harmful chemicals, such as DDTs and PCBs, were discharged from industrial sources through wastewater outfalls into the ocean at White Point, near Los Angeles.
SGA created a public health campaign to increase awareness about the contaminated fish and change the consumption habits to reduce the exposure to harmful contaminants. Before we could get residents to change their fishing routines or the way they consume or cook fish, we had to conduct extensive research and data gathering.
The objectives of this campaign included the following:
- To conduct a statistically valid survey of recreational anglers that fish in the region to determine the fish species that were being caught and consumed at the highest rates
- To gather quantitative data that could be used to characterize exposures of the general fishing population to DDT and PCBs from consumption of fish and shellfish caught in the region
- To identify and educate demographic and ethnic subgroups within the general fishing population of the region that may be consuming large quantities of contaminants through selection, quantity, and/or cooking method of fish species
Since this public health campaign was focused on curbing behaviors, SGA utilized Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM), an approach that aimed to not only raise awareness, but change behaviors. We followed CBSM’s step-wise process by first conducting formative research to identify the target audiences, the target audience’s behaviors and the barriers and motivators associated with the target’s behaviors. The research consisted of conducting an initial baseline survey, an intervention and a follow-up a month later to determine the effectiveness of the intervention.
Through stakeholder workshops and community strategic planning meetings, SGA developed a road map document for the EPA out of the input received from the stakeholders that developed consensus on the project’s long-term goals, objectives and specific priorities for the project.
For the Fish Contamination Education program, SGA discovered that Asian community members tend to eat the whole fish, especially the fatty, highly contaminated parts. To surmount this culturally-driven practice — and encourage the target behavior of fish fillet consumption — we distributed culturally relevant fish fillet samples and recipes featuring recommended preparation methods during classroom-style educational workshops delivered in groups and in conjunction with existing community classes, such as English as a Second Language and citizenship classes.
After the public health campaign, the number of community members who reported eating contaminated fish dropped from 10% to 0% in the Chinese community, and from 39% to 3% in the Vietnamese community. When it came to abandoning certain risky fish preparation behaviors, the Chinese community reported a decrease by 26%, while the Vietnamese community showed a decrease by 19%. More importantly, in the Vietnamese Community, there was a 64% increase in the number of people who reported eating one or more fish meals a week, and a 51% increase in the number of people who reported eating the skinless fillet of the fish.
The development of the Los Anglers program was also critical to the campaign’s success. This program allowed anglers to connect peer to peer and share best practices, tips and photos of recent catches. They began to spread the message of the dangers of eating contaminated fish themselves. These efforts resulted in a 93% decrease obtained at the test site in the amount of contaminated fish that anglers took home from the piers.
For the work that SGA accomplished for the FCEC, we were awarded the Silver Anvil Winner for Best Government Public Service Program in the Nation. Our work was also featured in an issue of Social Marketing Quarterly in an article entitled “What’s the Catch” which outlined the 90% reduction in contaminated fish consumption in Southern California, specifically among Latino and Asian immigrant groups.