Fishing on the Anacostia River

Friday, May 27, 2011 - 1:45pm

The Reality

The Anacostia River faces many challenges, but it remains an important natural resource for those who live, work and play in its watershed.  For many, the Anacostia is a source of food.    Based on observations and discussion with anglers, we know that that many eat what they catch. Studies  from other regions across the country show that subsistence fishing is often found among low-income and ethnic communities.

The Concern

 The fish in the Anacostia River are not necessarily safe to eat.  Consuming contaminated fish can be hazardous to your health, and both the District and Maryland have issued fish consumption advisories. We are not sure if  anglers are aware of these advisories, or moved by them.

There are known contaminated sites on the river which pollute the water quality, making fish sick and making those who consume them  sick as well. Two of the biggest toxins of concern in the River are PCBs and PAHs - both suspected human carcinogens.  Two thirds of Brown Bullhead Catfish  have cancerous lesions caused by contaminants in their tissue, according to a study by US Fish & Wildlife Service. 

The Study

We care about the Anacostia ,not only for its own natural beauty, but for the people who depend on it as well.  This is why Anacostia Riverkeeper, the National Oceanic and Atmosperic Administration (NOAA), the Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT), and the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), and the  Environmental Protection Agency embarked on an outreach effort targeted at subsistence anglers and designed to address this key public health concern.

The outreach includes a fish consumption study to be followed by a public awareness campaign to inform anglers, their families and friends about the risks of consuming the fish. The project goal is to:

  1. raise awareness and understanding of Anacostia River health issues,
  2. change attitudes and/or perceptions, and
  3. persuade anglers to modify their behavior, where warranted, to reduce risk.



This effort is a partnership with the following:




As a trustee for the public of coastal and marine resources, NOAA has a role in ensuring these resources are used wisely and safely.  NOAA provides a strong science foundation to effectively manage and advance the sustainable use of our coastal and ocean systems, improve ecosystem and human health, and support economic vitality. Some NOAA offices are already heavily involved in assessing and helping remediate the contaminants that affect many fish species in the river, as well as other efforts related to marine debris and environmental education.



CBT is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization chartered in 1985 by the Maryland General Assembly to engage the public in the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers and streams.  Funding provided by the Trust sparks on-the-ground change in communities throughout Maryland and works to cultivate a new generation of Bay stewards. The Trust’s goal is to increase stewardship through grant programs, special initiatives, and partnerships that support environmental education, on-the-ground restoration, and community engagement activities.


For More Information

Listen to or read our recent coverage on WAMU (NPR), click here.

Studies from across the country: