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Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

Eating Sport-caught Fish from an Industrial Urban Area: Anglers Consider the Risks

[image:] A man fishing at Big Marsh in southeast Chicago with an active industrial facility in the background.  Research Issue

Consumption of sport-caught fish is a social, economic, and public health concern in places where water and sediment quality are low or variable. The heavily urbanized and industrialized Calumet region of southeast Chicago and northwest Indiana is just such an area.

Our Research

Over two summers, anthropologists from The Field Museum conducted interviews with people fishing in the industrial Calumet Region of northwest Indiana and southeast Chicago. Supplemental interviews sought information from others with an interest in Calumet fishing including bait shop owners, conservation officers, and anglers’ family members.

Of the 97 interviewees who provided definitive information about their fish consumption habits, 70 percent reported eating fish from Calumet waters at least once and 45 percent said they ate their catch every time they fished.  Some anglers practiced catch and release because of concerns about water pollution while others just did not eat fish. Those who ate fish they caught expressed a range of beliefs (some accurate, some not) about detecting pollution, choosing "safe" fishing spots, and removing pollution from fish.  There were some differences in risk perceptions and fish consumption patterns across racial-ethnic lines.

There was widespread uncertainty about how people can know what is safe or unsafe to eat (both fish and other foods). Almost no one had read official state-issued fishing guidebooks yet some interviewees were familiar with information available in the guidebooks.

Expected Outcomes

These findings highlight the many challenges of conveying accurate fish consumption risk information to a diverse urban fishing population. We suggest that natural resource managers and public health officials may need to conduct outreach through non-traditional channels, focus on minimizing fish consumption risks through preparation techniques, and provide information in formats accessible to a range of local anglers.

Research Results

Fisher, C. L.; Westphal, L. M.; and Longoni, M. 2010. Fish consumption risk perception among anglers in an industrial urban area. In: Watts, C. E., Jr. and C. L. Fisher, eds. Proceedings, 2009 Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-66. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station, pp. 48-56.

Westphal, L. M.; Longoni, M.; LeBlanc, C. L.; Wali, A. 2008. Anglers’ appraisals of the risks of eating sport-caught fish from industrial areas: Lessons from Chicago’s Calumet region. Human Ecology Review 15(1): 46-62. 

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Lynne Westphal, Research Social Scientist and Project Leader, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • Mario Longoni, Urban Ethnographer (now Public Involvement Coordinator), Center for Cultural Understanding and Change, The Field Museum

Research Partners

  • Cherie LeBlanc Fisher, Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • Alaka Wali, Director, Center for Cultural Understanding and Change and John Nuveen Curator of Anthropology, The Field Museum


Last Modified: 10/20/2010