Many people may not realize that March is fish consumption month.
A group of organizations in North Carolina is hoping to raise that awareness along with a campaign to help diners understand the dangers lurking within the waters of the Cape Fear River.
“Stop, Check and Enjoy” is an educational campaign designed to help the communities along the Cape Fear River better understand exactly what’s in that water and how it’s affecting the animals within it.
Veronica Carter of the NC Coastal Federation board of directors, said the effort is to “get DEQ and EPA regulators to realize they needed to help us get our Cape Fear River cleaner, and one of the main reasons is because people actually want to enjoy the river and people eat out of the river.”
Eating fish and crabs from the river shouldn’t seem like a bad thing, but experts say it can be dangerous if someone were to eat the wrong type of fish, eat fish from the river too often, or fail to prepare it correctly.
“Because of long-term industrialization along the river and more recent inputs of chemical contaminants, there are a lot of chemical contaminants in the Cape Fear River, and those get into the fish,” explained Dr. Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.
As they researched the chemicals found in fish and how often people were eating them, experts found that many were unaware that contaminated fish might now be easy to identify.
“What we heard a lot was that was, you know, this fish looks fine,” Shapiro-Garza said. “But chemical contaminants are much more silent. They are harder to see or hear or smell.”
“That’s probably the scariest part, that folks didn’t know what was going on,” Carter added.
That’s where Stop, Check and Enjoy comes in.
“Stop checking the fish advisories. Those can be found on the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website, and then once you’ve checked you can enjoy,” Shapiro-Garza said.
Those involved in the campaign say they realized quickly that many families along the river weren’t just fishing for fun, but for subsistence, making their education and research efforts all the more important.
“If somebody needs that fish to supplement their diet, you can’t just sit there and say don’t eat those fish because they’re bad,” Carter said.
That’s also why they recruited help from local chefs.
Dean Neff, chef and owner of Seabird restaurant, said, “One of the problems with some of these contaminants is that they actually concentrate in fry oil. When you fry at home, you reuse your oil, and those contaminants actually concentrate in that oil as you reuse it.”
Neff is one of several helping people think of new ways to prepare the fish they eat from the Cape Fear.
“It’s important for us, it’s our community, it’s our environment, and the people that makeup of community are actually being affected by this,” he said.