Mary Bohling, Michigan Sea Grant (MSG) Extension educator, has been invited to present at the Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) Parks Advisory Committee meeting today (Aug. 11) at the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health in Lansing. The NRC is a seven-member public body whose members are appointed by the governor and subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. Commissioner Hurley Coleman chairs the committee. Kelley Smith, Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) acting natural resources deputy, and Jim Dexter, MDNR acting fisheries chief, invited Mary to present the Detroit River fish consumption communications project after learning about it at the Lake Erie Citizens Fishery Advisory Council meeting earlier this year. Mary will have an opportunity to talk to the commission about her work in the Detroit area that focuses on communicating fish advisory information to fish consumers.
In 2007, MSG requested proposals for projects addressing issues of importance in AOCs (areas of concern). As a result, Dr. Donna Kashian, assistant professor at Wayne State University, was funded for a three-year project to explore the causes, consequences and correctives of fish contamination in the Detroit River. Mary helped Donna identify local stakeholders and invited them to participate in the project. Prior to the first stakeholder meeting in 2009, some of Donna’s students conducted a survey of people fishing along the Detroit River. The survey revealed that people were either not aware of fish consumption advisories (FCAs), did not understand them or did not believe them. At the first stakeholder meeting, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) requested assistance in developing new ways of communicating the advisories. As a result, a subcommittee was formed and began developing a strategy for improving access to, and communication of, the advisories. Subcommittee members included Michigan State University Extension natural resources educator Gary Williams and representatives from Friends of the Detroit River, MDNR Fisheries, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, Wayne County Department of Public Health, Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion and the Detroit Recreation Department.
Previously, FCAs were communicated through a lengthy statewide booklet that was distributed at the point-of-sale when fishing licenses were purchased. Due to budget constraints, booklets are now only available on the Web. The booklet was also technical, could be confusing and is often viewed as very negative. The subcommittee wanted the new materials to be a positive piece that provided information about the healthy benefits of eating fish and balanced that with the need to include cautionary fish consumption information. This was a significant change in communication strategy. The subcommittee developed brochures, signage, fliers and outreach activities, and the MDCH has since updated their website and other materials using this positive strategy. The MDCH has also received two grants through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to expand the program to areas throughout the state.
Find more information about Michigan’s fish consumption advisories at http://www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,1607,7-132-54783_54784_54785—,00.html.
Find more information on the FCA project at http://www.miseagrant.umich.edu/fisheries/detroit-river-fish-consumption-advisory.html.