Sporting a bright yellow “Eat Safe Fish” t-shirt and lanyard, Jim Bridgforth carries an armful of pamphlets as he walks the Detroit River at Mariner Park.
Anglers sit in camping chairs equipped with bait of all colors and sizes, wearing bucket hats and dipping into their lunch boxes as they wait for a bite from the long row of rods that jut out into the water.
To Bridgforth, who visits this park multiple times a week, some are familiar faces.
He is part of a small army of volunteer “river walkers,” who spend their days on the banks of Michigan’s most polluted rivers, warning anglers of the risks that come from eating contaminated fish and advising them on how to fish safely.
“I believe that one of the things we can do is to educate people about things in the environment that can help protect their health,” Bridgforth said.
In a state where industrial pollution has tainted the tissue of fish in waterways from metro Detroit to the Upper Peninsula, they have their work cut out for them.
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It’s a delicate balance for Marco Kamimura, events coordinator for the Research for Indigenous Social Action and Equity Center at the University of Michigan.
Kamimura, who is Indigenous Okinawan and Mexican, fishes at least once a week in southeast Michigan’s rivers. He researches advisories beforehand and avoids large, predatory fish that can absorb large quantities of contamination through their prey.
Kamimura’s grandparents taught him how to fish as a child, and subsistence fishing was crucial to their survival. Despite his fears about contamination, Kamimura said he finds it important to continue the practice with his 3-year-old son.
“It is our job to teach that intergenerational knowledge,” Kamimura said.