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Ecol Process. 2013 Mar 12;2(4). doi: 10.1186/2192-1709-2-4.

Cultural and health implications of fish advisories in a Native American community.

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American Studies and Ethnic Studies, Brown University, Box 1886, Providence RI 02860, USA.



Fish advisories are issued in an effort to protect human health from exposure to contaminants, but Native American communities may suffer unintended health, social, and cultural consequences as a result of warnings against eating local fish. This paper focuses on the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, which lies downstream from a Superfund site, and explores how fish advisories have impacted fish consumption and health.


65 Akwesasne community members were interviewed between March 2008 and April 2009. Interviews were semi-structured, lasted from 30-90 minutes and consisted of open-ended questions about the impacts of environmental contamination on the community. Detailed field notes were also maintained during extensive visits between 2007-2011. Interviews were transcribed, and these transcripts as well as the field notes were analyzed in NVivo 8.0. This research received approval from the Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment Research Advisory Committee, as well as the Brown University Institutional Review Board.


Three-quarters of the 50 Akwesasne Mohawks interviewed have ceased or significantly curtailed their local fish consumption due to the issuance of fish advisories or witnessing or hearing about deformities on fish. Many of these respondents have turned to outside sources of fish, from other communities or from grocery stores. This change in fish consumption concerns many residents because cultural and social connections developed around fishing are being lost and because fish has been replaced with high-fat high-carb processed foods, which has led to other health complications. One-quarter of the 50 interviewees still eat local fish, but these are generally middle-aged or older residents; fish consumption no longer occurs in the multi-generational social context it once did.


Human health in Native American communities such as Akwesasne is intimately tied to the health of the environment. Fish advisories should not be used as an institutional control to protect humans from exposure to contaminants; if Akwesasne are to achieve optimal health, the contaminated environment has to be remediated to a level that supports clean, edible fish.


Fish advisories; Haudenosaunee; Health risk assessment; Mohawk; Native American; PCBs; St. Lawrence River; Superfund

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