UW News

June 24, 2020

Videos: If you fish the Duwamish in Seattle, better eat the salmon — Comer el salmón, Ăn cá hồi, បរិភោគត្រីសាម៉ុង — and here’s how

UW News

Sean Phuong fishes the Duwamish River in 2018.Fahad Aldaajani/University of Washington

It could take another generation before resident fish in the heavily polluted Lower Duwamish Waterway in Seattle will be safe to eat. Yet many fishers from a wide range of cultural backgrounds continue to fish the 5-mile stretch of river for fun, cultural connections and food even as cleanup of this designated Superfund site continues.

The Duwamish was listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priority (or “Superfund”) List of sites that require cleanup in 2001. Since that time, federal, state and local agencies and community organizations have been developing strategies to clean up the toxic legacy of a century of industrial activity along the river.

The University of Washington Superfund Research Program has partnered with agencies and community groups focused on the cleanup for over a decade. Most recently, the program has been assisting in efforts to educate local communities about the safety of eating fish from the river.

COVID-19 update: Fishing on the Duwamish River is currently allowed under the state’s gradual approach to reopening businesses and modifying physical distancing measures.

“The focus of our program is to help reach communities that continue to fish the river,” said Tom Burbacher, the director of community engagement for the UW program and a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences. “As part of this effort we encourage people fishing in the Duwamish to eat only the salmon, within recommended amounts, and not the resident fish taken from the waterway.”

The consumption guidelines were established by the Washington Department of Health.

map of seattle area with duwamish river in red

Location of the Superfund site on the Lower Duwamish Waterway.

But the question quickly became how to get this critical message to the fishers — especially members of the Cambodian, Latino and Vietnamese communities — who fish that stretch of river?

Online videos! That was the advice from members of those communities who participated in a city-funded program and now serve as Community Health Advocates for Public Health–Seattle & King County. Taking that advice, the agencies partnered with UW and the community members to create nine videos to introduce salmon fishing, the regulations involved, what fishing gear is needed, how much salmon is safe to eat and how to prepare salmon and cook various dishes using salmon.

“These videos will help us reach more of our Duwamish Valley fishermen through digital technology — they are well edited, easy to listen to, and quite striking,” said Edwin Hernandez Reto, a former community health advocate who is now running his own fisher education program and plans to use the videos in his outreach work.

“Community organizations have been advocating for effective health communication about fishing in the Duwamish River for nearly 20 years,” said BJ Cummings, community engagement manager for Superfund Research Program. “We’re very grateful to our partners for helping the community achieve this key tool to inform and empower the river’s multilingual fishing families.”

Versions of all nine videos will be dubbed into Spanish, Vietnamese and Khmer. They are available to watch on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website. The nine titles are:

  • Healthy Fishing in the Duwamish: Let’s Catch Salmon
  • Step One: Obtaining Your Fishing License
  • Choosing Your Fishing Gear
  • Things to do when Planning your Fishing Trip
  • How to Fish: Intro at the Duwamish River
  • Filleting Salmon
  • Blackened Salmon Caesar
  • Grilled Salmon Tacos with Mango Salsa
  • Salmon Ceviche

You can watch the videos through the UW Superfund Research Program site — Healthy Fishing on the Duwamish: Let’s Catch Salmon!

“People go fishing, or just go near a river because it helps remind them of home,” says Emma Maceda-Maria, a community health advocate and a narrator in several of the videos. “The resident fish, since they are constantly eating the sediments, are the ones that collect the most chemicals. If you’re fishing in the Duwamish River, we only suggest that you eat salmon since it’s a transitory fish. It only spends a small amount of time in the Duwamish River. Resident fish live here all their life, so you want to avoid them.”

For more information about fishing the Lower Duwamish Waterway, check out Public Health– Seattle & King County’s “Fishing for safe seafood to eat” and the UW Superfund Research Program’s “Fish consumption” webpages.


Washington Department of Health’s consumption guidelines for fishing the Lower Duwamish Waterway.Public Health-Seattle & King County

Support for the Superfund Research Program, part of the UW School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, comes from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.


For more information, contact BJ Cummings, community engagement manager with the UW Superfund Research Program, at bjcumngs@uw.edu.

Learn more about the UW’s Population Health Initiative: a 25-year, interdisciplinary effort to bring understanding and solutions to the biggest challenges facing communities.