Over the summer thousands of people consumed fish from the Anacostia River that runs through Washington D.C., despite years of warnings against eating anything from one of the United States’ most polluted rivers. To those living in affluent neighborhoods of Washington D.C., the thought of eating something from the river is unthinkable.

For years it was largely believed that the fishing practice on the river was catch-and-release and that only a small percentage of anglers were actually eating the fish they caught. According to National Geographic, “a recent study conducted by the Riverkeeper and a consortium of other nonprofits and government agencies found fish consumption to be much more prevalent,” especially among the poor.

Three-quarters of those fishing on the river were found to be consuming the fish and sharing them with others. These are fish like like the brown bullhead catfish, which 50 to 68 percent of those living in the Anacostia have been found to have liver tumors, while nearly a quarter of them have visible skin lesions.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists the Anacostia River Urban Watershed as one of its Targeted Watersheds for protection and restoration of water quality. Eighty-five percent of the river is in Maryland and 15 percent within the District of Columbia. Years of damage caused by urban pollution and habitat destruction have made this river unhealthy.

In the year of the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, residents of Washington D.C. launched a project and mobile app “designed to engage individuals as explorers and citizen scientists by giving them a program to instantly upload geo-tagged photos of the rivers they love as they recreate on them.” Find more information on the Below the Surface project at www.belowthesurface.org.

While more than half of the nation’s waterways now meet the standards set by the Clean Water Act in the time the act was amended in 1972, there is lots more to go in the next 40 years. When standards are met, anglers will be able to enjoy fishing for catfish, perch, bass and more from the Anacostia River.

Image from TrailVoice on the flickr Creative Commons

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