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Stakeholder participation in research design and decisions: scientists, fishers, and mercury in saltwater fish.

Burger J, et al. Ecohealth. 2013.

Abstract

Individuals who fish and eat self-caught fish make decisions about where to fish, the type to eat, and the quantity to eat. Federal and state agencies often issue consumption advisories for some fish with high mercury (Hg) concentrations, but seldom provide either the actual metal levels to the general public, or identify the fish that have low contaminant levels. Community participatory research is of growing importance in defining, studying, and resolving complex exposure and risk issues, and this paper is at the intersection of traditional stakeholder approaches and community-based participatory research. The objective of this paper is to describe the process whereby stakeholders (fishers), were involved in directing and refining research questions to address their particular informational needs about mercury levels in fish, potential risks, and methods to maintain health, by balancing the risks and benefits of fish consumption. A range of stakeholders, mainly individual fishers, fishing organizations, and other scientists, were involved at nearly every stage. Community participants influenced many aspects of the design and implementation of the research, in the determination of which fish species to sample, in the collection of the samples, and in the final analyses and synthesis, as well as the communication of results and implications of the research through their fishing club publications, talks and gatherings. By involving the most interested and affected communities, the data and conclusions are relevant to their needs because the fish examined were those they ate and wanted information about, and directly address concerns about the risk from consuming self-caught fish. Although mercury levels in fish presumed to be high in mercury are known, little information was available to the fishermen on mercury levels in fish that were low and thus provided little risk to their families. While community participatory research is more time-consuming and expensive than traditional scientific research, both the process and results are better scientifically in terms of community relevance.

PMID

23413085 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

PMCID

PMC4341829

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