Reaching Beyond the Usual Fish: Equity and Inclusion in Programs and Policies

 Ali Ong Lee


In the 1970s, while fishing with my father from a San Francisco pier, somebody handed me a pamphlet about environmental racism.  It warned us about the high mercury levels in the fish we were most likely to catch from the pier that Saturday morning: striped bass, surf perches, jacksmelt, California halibut, and rockfish.  I looked up from my empty bucket and realized that the majority of people fishing from that pier were black and brown, like us, out for the fun and camaraderie of fishing — out for the luck of catching a fish to share later at supper. 

Since my family was not reliant upon the bay’s fish and seafood for supper, as some families were, I gave the pamphlet away, but the message came home with me. Some environmental programs and policies reach even a kid, in pigtails and sneakers, on a pier. 

Messaging can and does reverberate, but we may do well to widen our audience by going beyond what we currently know and do with our programs, and policies. 

We might consciously surface our unconscious biases and training, then reach out not only to communities of color who historically and disproportionately live on or near contaminated sites, but also to people who may not access their information from formal text.  We might consider publishing low literacy text, large print text, and use sans serif (no curly cue) fonts for greater readability for people who may need the magnifier setting to read our websites.  People who use screen readers need text-only options for best use of their speech-output software; we might follow the international World Wide Web 3 Accessibility standards for increasing accessibility on-line and in-print:  We might use the set-up for the closed captioning transcript corresponding to our YouTube videos.  We might budget for and regularly hire translators for presentations.  We might ensure our offices have wheelchair accessible entries and emergency exits, and that our aisles and bathrooms meet American Disability Act standards.

We might seek to emulate models of environmental equity and inclusion, especially in a new climate where the acronym BLM is more recognizable as standing for Black Lives Matter than the old Bureau of Land Management.  We might consciously recruit qualified staff and board members who identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), disabled, first-generation, immigrant or LGBTQIA to expand our perspectives, networks, and problem-solving capabilities.

Some of what we are coming to know, EcoNews addressed in its November 2020 issue: Indigenous people’s forest practices of seasonal burning can and are being used to prevent mega wildfires — a perspective shared by Bill Tripp, from the Karuk Tribe Natural Resources Department, in “Our Land Was Taken.”  Furthermore, EcoNews addressed the cultural knowledge of prescribed burning being used among the collaborative of the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council, Orleans-Somes Bar Fire Safe Council, and the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership.  When cultural knowledge is used as part of policy-making, then we know we have widened our ways of being.

The November 2020 issue of EcoNews also moved beyond what it normally does by providing a bi-lingual Spanish and English Staff Spotlight of Jasmin Segura, Bay Tour Coordinator for Humboldt Baykeeper.  Another local media outlet the, which posts the EcoNews Report, has been providing COVID-19 reports in both Spanish and English.  According to Census 2017, 11.7% of Humboldt County’s population were Hispanic or Latino and 4.6% reported Spanish as being their first language. 

The former, owned by lifelong cyclist Melanie Williams, collaborated with Alice Birney School, in West Eureka, to provide bike safety workshops and get elementary school kids out in nature. Photo provided by Ali Ong Lee

The nonprofit LatinoOutdoors supports Latinx families and encourages future environmental leaders.  The former, owned by lifelong cyclist Melanie Williams, collaborated with Alice Birney School, in West Eureka, to provide bike safety workshops, culminating in children riding bicycles on a 10-mile route throughout Ferndale’s farmland as part of the volunteer-supported Tour of the Unknown Coast.

The nonprofit Humboldt Area Foundation created a COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund and targeted vulnerable communities with grants and zero interest or low interest community loans, technical support, and listening sessions. Some of the recipients were environmental agencies, organizations, and tribal programs creating local farms for educational purposes, intergenerational interactions, growing culturally appropriate foods, and furthering community resiliency.

These are but a few examples of how we can risk going beyond what we know and do to reach people who would benefit from connecting more to nature and from knowledge about such matters as which fish tested highest for toxic mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) concentrated in fatty tissues and are, therefore, health hazards if eaten.


Local Information and another example:

“Eating Fish Safely Guidelines for Humboldt Bay”:

“Comiendo Pescado con seguridad Pautas para Humboldt Bay”: