Pure Waters, Pure Fish
Alaska is thousands of miles away from large sources of pollution that can contaminate the human food supply in other parts of the world. These distances, combined with the earth's patterns of circulation of water and air, help to ensure that Alaska's own waters are among the cleanest in the world.
Alaska's human population density is the lowest of any in the United States, and lower than most places in the world. Alaska has little heavy industry, and has strict regulations governing development activities, such as road building, mining, logging, and sewage treatment. The State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) has a regulatory section dealing specifically with water quality. Water discharges, such as sewage and other potential pollutants, are closely regulated to ensure high water quality. In addition, ADFG requires prior approval for any in-stream construction activities in Alaska's salmon streams through the authority of the Alaska statutes known as the "Anadromous Fish Act" (Alaska Statute 16.05.870). Alaska also has a Forest Practices Act requiring buffer zones from logging along salmon streams to prevent erosion and protect spawning and rearing habitat. Clean marine habitats produce pure seafood products.
A good way to judge the cleanliness of a body of water is to examine the sessile (non-moving) organisms that live there, such as mussels and oysters. Since 1986, the U.S. National Mussel Watch Project of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Status and Trends (NS&T) Program has been doing exactly that. The program is growing, and there are well over 250 sampling sites distributed throughout the coastal United States. Every two years, either mussels or oysters are tested for the presence of 44 different kinds of petroleum hydrocarbons, and other pollutants, such as metals, pesticides, and PCBs. NS&T sampling near Alaska's fishing grounds have shown no human-caused contamination. The Alaska sites, including two in Prince William Sound, all ranked among the 25 sites with the least petroleum contamination in the USA. Alaska sites are not considered to have high concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons, PCBs, or pesticides.
Years ago, worldwide concern forced a ban on certain organic chemicals, such as DDT (a pesticide) and PCBs (a class of industrial chemicals). Before and since those bans took effect, DDT and PCB were found at levels of concern in many marine organisms around the world, but not in Alaska seafood. Many studies (3, 4, 5, 6, 7,) conducted by both government and university scientists over the course of decades have repeatedly demonstrated that Alaska seafood is pure and clean, with little to no traces of contaminants. Contaminant levels that constitute a public health concern, as determined by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), have never been approached and Alaska seafood is routinely purer than products from other parts of the world.
The Cook Inlet region of Southcentral Alaska near Anchorage is the most populated in the state. Studies performed for the U.S. Minerals Management Service report that Cook Inlet's waters and sediments are remarkably free of hydrocarbons and metals. One of the research teams, University of Alaska's Environmental and Natural Resources Institute, said "The physical, chemical, and bioassay results of this study show that Cook Inlet has very low environmental concentrations of hydrocarbons, and that sediments and water are generally free from toxicity. Results also show no immediate evidence of heavy metal pollution in Cook Inlet."
As the marine habitat in Cook Inlet is extremely clean, so is Cook Inlet's seafood. Like most regions of Alaska, Cook Inlet is home to Alaska Natives and others whose lifestyle is based on harvest and consumption of local foods, especially finfish and shellfish, at levels higher than those consumed by other Americans. In order to assess the potential risks of a subsistence diet based heavily on seafood, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a comprehensive study of Cook Inlet seafood species. King salmon, sockeye salmon, chum salmon, halibut, sea bass, cod, flounder, as well as other subsistence food species, such as kelp, snail, and clam were studied. The results indicate finfish and shellfish in Cook Inlet are as clean and wholesome as any that the EPA has ever tested.
This conclusion was supported by the State of Alaska's Division of Public Health. Their own independent study of traditional (Native) foods, conducted for the entire state, recommended "the continued unrestricted consumption of traditional subsistence foods in Alaska." ADEC also tests the cleanliness of Alaska seafood. ADEC tested a variety of species including salmon, halibut, king crab, and snow crab. The results showed that none of these species approached FDA's level of concern for arsenic, chromium, cadmium, lead, and nickel.
ADEC also routinely checks both raw and processed seafood products for bacterial contaminants and fecal coliform, and consistently finds that bacteria are virtually non-existent in Alaska seafood.
Alaska's marine habitats are extremely clean, and Alaska's seafood is pure and remarkably free of contamination by pesticides, petroleum derivatives, PCBs, metals, and bacteria.
By Joyce A. Nettleton, DSc, RD.