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Can you eat fish caught in San Diego Bay?

How the homeless contribute to water pollution

It turns out many fisher folks partake of potentially contaminated catches from San Diego Bay with knowledge of the health risks, as is the case with any nutritional “guilty pleasure.”
It turns out many fisher folks partake of potentially contaminated catches from San Diego Bay with knowledge of the health risks, as is the case with any nutritional “guilty pleasure.”

Theresa Talley, a scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, looks for ways to reveal to San Diegans our connections to the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay. Much of her research centers around plastic that finds its way from consumers to the local waters. We’ve all heard of the six packs rings and grocery bags polluting the ocean, harming wildlife, and taking thousands of years to break down. But Talley says one type of plastic waste that does not require the awesome forces of nature to be ground down to near-nano sizes is a plastic invention that easily ends up back inside the very households whence it passed en route to open waters: “Micro-beads.”

Theresa Talley says there have been decreases in many of San Diego Bay’s pollutants, including mercury, tributyltin, and DDT, during the last half century thanks to bans and other measures. But the storm water pressures that accompany urban development plus new chemicals such as flame retardants, stain retardants, pesticides, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals are another story.

Manufactured for personal-care products, sometimes as exfoliant, micro-beads were, Talley says, “banned during the Obama Administration,” Talley explains. “But we will continue finding them in the water and in sea animals for a long time to come, because they just last that long.”

A 2019 Scripps Institution of Oceanography study co-authored by recent PhD recipient, Jennifer Brandon, unveiled alarming levels of plastic particles in the North Pacific. “Microplastics a million times more abundant in the ocean than previously thought” was one of the scream-inducing headlines you may have missed.

On a less “micro” but equally disturbing scale, Dr. Talley describes another class of waste material she and colleagues have been researching in and around San Diego Bay. It’s a class of waste that is of particular interest to scientists simply by virtue of how glaring it has become in recent years — trash.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment suggests that women ages 46 and older and men ages 18 and older may safely eat a maximum of one serving per week of Pacific Chub Mackerel, found in a pier-fisher’s catch on Shelter Island.

“We’re finding in our waterways, like Chollas Creek, which connect the city to the bay,” Talley says. “It’s litter and illegally dumped items, even car engines, tires, electronics, appliances, and furniture.”

Many of the small fibers in the bay may come from illegally dumped upholstered furniture and mattresses which release fibers from covers and stuffing as they breakdown. Pieces of apparel and textile matter are more than ever entering coastal waters via the storm water system, which Dr. Talley says shuttles the city’s untreated storm water through coastal canyons and directly into San Diego Bay.

Lodged in the guts of fish and shellfish from the bay, Talley sees whole clumps of fibers and what appears to be furniture stuffing, pieces of the furniture itself, bedding, and bits of clothing which have washed down our canyons and into the bay.

“The large items we often find in the canyons include illegally dumped furniture, couches, and mattresses.” Talley says. “The homeless crisis is a horrible, heartbreaking social crisis. But it’s also an environmental one that impacts the bay.... The good news is that solutions to the trash problem lie within each of us. It’s a global problem that has local solutions.”

Taking an anecdotal measure of the health of San Diego Bay is like scanning today’s national headlines.

San Diego, like most of urban and suburban America, is built on a foundation of decaying infrastructure, which directly impacts local ecosystems, the bay among them. Infrastructure is a word that’s been in the news ever since President Joe Biden asked Congress for a boatload of money — $2.3 trillion, no less — to fix and rebuild the things on which we walk and drive, from which we fly, and through which we pump drinking water and waste water. While some argue over whether in-home health care services fit the definition of infrastructure, few would argue about America’s need for new water-treatment plants, and replacement of failing sewer lines and water mains.

“Theoretically waste from washing machines and bathrooms shouldn’t ever make it into the bay,” Talley explains. “Waste water is treated, so fibers, pollutants, and most particles would ordinarily be filtered out by the treatment process — by that infrastructure. But sewer lines leak, and they break. Much of the waste-water infrastructure in older parts of San Diego is 100 or more years old.”

Better living through chemistry?

Just as textiles, plastics, and metals find their way into San Diego Bay and then back into San Diegans’ lives on shore, so too do engineered chemicals. Talley says there have been decreases in many of the bay’s pollutants, including mercury, tributyltin, and DDT, during the last half century thanks to bans and other measures. But the storm water pressures that accompany urban development plus new chemicals such as flame retardants, stain retardants, pesticides, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals are another story.

Even as the “legacy pollutants” of yesteryear decrease, new ones present challenges in and beyond the bay. Talley explains that pointing fingers is not part of her aim. “We’re about collecting the data and sharing what we’ve found to help craft solutions.”

The data reveal that trace parts of consumer goods journey from our homes and places of work to gutters, storm drains, canyons and streams, bays and coastal waters. They sometimes find their way back onto land as trash washed up on beaches, or as tainted fish caught from the bay.

The consequences of that journey are major and wide-ranging, says Talley. Repercussions of bay contamination come home to roost for large industrial polluters or the military in easy-to-recognize ways. Fines, settlements, and monetary judgments resulting from environmental damage grab headlines. Back in 2007, even the city of San Diego settled with the Environmental Protection Agency to spend $1 billion improving sewers after Clean Water Act violations were alleged.

But it may be a little harder to imagine how regular San Diegans experience consequences of our collective contributions to the stream of contaminants flowing into San Diego Bay. Nevertheless, Dr. Talley and her colleagues, David Pedersen, professor in anthropology at University of California San Diego, and Chad Loflen, senior environmental scientist at the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board have seen examples of that happening.

In their recent study looking into what causes “social and public health vulnerability” to seafood contaminants in the bay, the authors found both legacy and new contaminants in shellfish harvested from San Diego Bay. Their data complements what is known already about the bay’s fin fish. In speaking with recreational anglers on the public-fishing piers, they found individuals’ choices to eat what they catch from the bay is often motivated by cultural, traditional, or family practices and not as much by subsistence, as is often assumed.

Surprisingly, people are generally aware of some level of contaminant in pier-fished catches. That’s in part thanks to the fish-consumption advisory signs posted on all public fishing piers along the bay. It turns out many fisher folks partake of potentially contaminated catches from San Diego Bay with knowledge of the health risks, as is the case with any nutritional “guilty pleasure.”

Along with the signs clearly posted on all public-fishing piers, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment offers an easy-to-use website that breaks down recommended safe-serving quantities of species of sea animals. “Women ages 46 and older and men ages 18 and older should not eat Shiner Perch or Topsmelt,” explains the state’s guidelines site. “They may safely eat a maximum of seven total servings per week of Pile Perch or Rainbow Surfperch, or two total servings per week of Black Perch, Diamond Turbot, Round Stingray, Shovelnose Guitarfish, Spiny Lobster, or Spotted Turbot, or one serving per week of Barred Sand Bass, Pacific Chub Mackerel, sharks, Spotted Sand Bass, or Yellowfin Croaker.”

According to Talley, the large Pacific oysters now living on the boulders that make up the armored shoreline around the bay are listed as one serving per week, same for barred or spotted sand bass.

“Of course, there still are no human consumption guidelines for some of the contaminants we found in the shellfish, so recommended serving sizes may change as we learn more,” she says. “And we didn’t look at biological contaminants like bacterial loads.”

Before eating bay oysters from the bay, Dr. Talley advises, first doing a little homework by checking these sites: California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Health Advisories and Closures for California Finfish, Shellfish and Crustaceans, as well as a website with current shellfish biotoxin advisories from California Department of Public Health and its newly unveiled map of shellfish advisories. Alternatively, call the department’s hotline at 800-553-4133.

They want us to just disappear

“I’m always on the water,” says commercial-fishing and small excursion fleet owner, Brian Kiyohara. “I love the bay. I love the ocean. But you know, although I wouldn’t say Coastkeeper and all these folks are against us or are our enemies, the overall perspective is they want guys like me out of the picture.”

Lament more than grievance characterizes Kiyohara’s voice. His American Anglers boats dock along San Diego Bay’s Point Loma Harbor near Scott Street.

“I’m the ultimate environmentalist, because the ocean is where I make my living. I’ll be the last one who’s going to pollute or overfish.”

Kiyohara feels attacked by efforts like (now shelved) Assembly Bill 3030, which would have doubled to about 30 percent California’s coastal waters that are off limits to commercial fishing. “Everybody who works out here on a daily basis is highly educated about their responsibilities,” he says. “We don’t fish on the bay. We go way out to sea.

“I see the Navy really getting on board too.”

Says Kiyohara, he and his seagoing colleagues feel sideswiped when they’re made the target of blame for all that troubles the planet’s waters. “Now you’ve got Leonardo DiCaprio out with this new documentary that basically says we should stop fishing and all become vegan.”

Stay out of the water

“Growing up in San Diego County, we were told to stay out of the water for 72 hours after each rainfall without fully understanding why,” Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation executive director Marco Gonzales said in a recent public statement.

Now, with his own surf-loving family, Gonzales is intent on suing the county because of alleged neglect of Mission Bay and other water resources.

“More than 30 years later, I’m telling my kids they can’t surf for three days after it rains. All the while, the county has been more inclined to push back on regulators than work towards any measure of real progress. At some point, government needs to be held accountable for its failure of leadership.”

The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, along with San Diego Coastkeeper, accuses county officials of having for decades, “repeatedly, persistently, and systemically failed to protect the region’s waterways and communities from the impacts of pollution.”

The county counters that it’s working hard to meet its obligations under the Clean Water Act.

Coastkeeper’s Matt O’Malley, the group’s executive director and its managing attorney, is also a plaintiff against San Diego County. The suit alleges that county officials have, at best negligently and at worst willfully, failed their legal obligation to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

O’Malley and Gonzales believe San Diego Bay can be a vibrant ecosystem and great recreational destination with military and commercial activities that thrive because of, rather than in spite, of good stewardship. “After a decade-long fight alongside our allies, we won a regulatory ruling to close the ecosystem-damaging South Bay Power Plant,” O’Malley points out. “Our litigation against Southwest Marine won important storm-water improvements along the bay front. And, our legal action directed at contaminated sediments led the Regional Water Quality Control Board to order longtime polluters to conduct a massive cleanup of their toxic pollution at the bottom of San Diego Bay, dredging and removing 140,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment.”

That, he says, led to new environments for fish species.

“We also negotiated a $15 million restoration plan with the Port of San Diego to turn the Campbell Shipyard into a thriving ecosystem and fish nursery.”

Other major changes, O’Malley says, include the “10th Avenue Marine Terminal and National City Marine Terminal, as well as private facilities like Rohr-UTC Aerospace in Chula Vista.”

O’Malley says Coastkeeper was a driving force in negotiating settlements for the future of the Chula Vista Bayfront revitalization project.

Will that future have room for commercial fishing enterprises and the people who’ve spent decades harvesting the ocean for a living? Collaboration with scientists and environmentalists may be key for San Diego Bay’s commercial fishing fleets. Brian Kiyohara says he’d be happy to chat with Talley. “I used to donate a lot of types of fish to [Birch] Scripps Aquarium,” Kiyohara recalls. “That was back when Ruth Shelley was head curator. She was really great. I’ll bet Dr. Talley knows who I’m talking about. I’m not here to be adversarial, and I’d love to have a chat about working with them again.”

But, says Kiyohara, one change he won’t help facilitate is killing San Diego-based commercial fishing. “I genuinely think that’s what some people want to see happen.”

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It turns out many fisher folks partake of potentially contaminated catches from San Diego Bay with knowledge of the health risks, as is the case with any nutritional “guilty pleasure.”
It turns out many fisher folks partake of potentially contaminated catches from San Diego Bay with knowledge of the health risks, as is the case with any nutritional “guilty pleasure.”

Theresa Talley, a scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, looks for ways to reveal to San Diegans our connections to the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay. Much of her research centers around plastic that finds its way from consumers to the local waters. We’ve all heard of the six packs rings and grocery bags polluting the ocean, harming wildlife, and taking thousands of years to break down. But Talley says one type of plastic waste that does not require the awesome forces of nature to be ground down to near-nano sizes is a plastic invention that easily ends up back inside the very households whence it passed en route to open waters: “Micro-beads.”

Theresa Talley says there have been decreases in many of San Diego Bay’s pollutants, including mercury, tributyltin, and DDT, during the last half century thanks to bans and other measures. But the storm water pressures that accompany urban development plus new chemicals such as flame retardants, stain retardants, pesticides, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals are another story.

Manufactured for personal-care products, sometimes as exfoliant, micro-beads were, Talley says, “banned during the Obama Administration,” Talley explains. “But we will continue finding them in the water and in sea animals for a long time to come, because they just last that long.”

A 2019 Scripps Institution of Oceanography study co-authored by recent PhD recipient, Jennifer Brandon, unveiled alarming levels of plastic particles in the North Pacific. “Microplastics a million times more abundant in the ocean than previously thought” was one of the scream-inducing headlines you may have missed.

On a less “micro” but equally disturbing scale, Dr. Talley describes another class of waste material she and colleagues have been researching in and around San Diego Bay. It’s a class of waste that is of particular interest to scientists simply by virtue of how glaring it has become in recent years — trash.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment suggests that women ages 46 and older and men ages 18 and older may safely eat a maximum of one serving per week of Pacific Chub Mackerel, found in a pier-fisher’s catch on Shelter Island.

“We’re finding in our waterways, like Chollas Creek, which connect the city to the bay,” Talley says. “It’s litter and illegally dumped items, even car engines, tires, electronics, appliances, and furniture.”

Many of the small fibers in the bay may come from illegally dumped upholstered furniture and mattresses which release fibers from covers and stuffing as they breakdown. Pieces of apparel and textile matter are more than ever entering coastal waters via the storm water system, which Dr. Talley says shuttles the city’s untreated storm water through coastal canyons and directly into San Diego Bay.

Lodged in the guts of fish and shellfish from the bay, Talley sees whole clumps of fibers and what appears to be furniture stuffing, pieces of the furniture itself, bedding, and bits of clothing which have washed down our canyons and into the bay.

“The large items we often find in the canyons include illegally dumped furniture, couches, and mattresses.” Talley says. “The homeless crisis is a horrible, heartbreaking social crisis. But it’s also an environmental one that impacts the bay.... The good news is that solutions to the trash problem lie within each of us. It’s a global problem that has local solutions.”

Taking an anecdotal measure of the health of San Diego Bay is like scanning today’s national headlines.

San Diego, like most of urban and suburban America, is built on a foundation of decaying infrastructure, which directly impacts local ecosystems, the bay among them. Infrastructure is a word that’s been in the news ever since President Joe Biden asked Congress for a boatload of money — $2.3 trillion, no less — to fix and rebuild the things on which we walk and drive, from which we fly, and through which we pump drinking water and waste water. While some argue over whether in-home health care services fit the definition of infrastructure, few would argue about America’s need for new water-treatment plants, and replacement of failing sewer lines and water mains.

“Theoretically waste from washing machines and bathrooms shouldn’t ever make it into the bay,” Talley explains. “Waste water is treated, so fibers, pollutants, and most particles would ordinarily be filtered out by the treatment process — by that infrastructure. But sewer lines leak, and they break. Much of the waste-water infrastructure in older parts of San Diego is 100 or more years old.”

Better living through chemistry?

Just as textiles, plastics, and metals find their way into San Diego Bay and then back into San Diegans’ lives on shore, so too do engineered chemicals. Talley says there have been decreases in many of the bay’s pollutants, including mercury, tributyltin, and DDT, during the last half century thanks to bans and other measures. But the storm water pressures that accompany urban development plus new chemicals such as flame retardants, stain retardants, pesticides, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals are another story.

Even as the “legacy pollutants” of yesteryear decrease, new ones present challenges in and beyond the bay. Talley explains that pointing fingers is not part of her aim. “We’re about collecting the data and sharing what we’ve found to help craft solutions.”

The data reveal that trace parts of consumer goods journey from our homes and places of work to gutters, storm drains, canyons and streams, bays and coastal waters. They sometimes find their way back onto land as trash washed up on beaches, or as tainted fish caught from the bay.

The consequences of that journey are major and wide-ranging, says Talley. Repercussions of bay contamination come home to roost for large industrial polluters or the military in easy-to-recognize ways. Fines, settlements, and monetary judgments resulting from environmental damage grab headlines. Back in 2007, even the city of San Diego settled with the Environmental Protection Agency to spend $1 billion improving sewers after Clean Water Act violations were alleged.

But it may be a little harder to imagine how regular San Diegans experience consequences of our collective contributions to the stream of contaminants flowing into San Diego Bay. Nevertheless, Dr. Talley and her colleagues, David Pedersen, professor in anthropology at University of California San Diego, and Chad Loflen, senior environmental scientist at the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board have seen examples of that happening.

In their recent study looking into what causes “social and public health vulnerability” to seafood contaminants in the bay, the authors found both legacy and new contaminants in shellfish harvested from San Diego Bay. Their data complements what is known already about the bay’s fin fish. In speaking with recreational anglers on the public-fishing piers, they found individuals’ choices to eat what they catch from the bay is often motivated by cultural, traditional, or family practices and not as much by subsistence, as is often assumed.

Surprisingly, people are generally aware of some level of contaminant in pier-fished catches. That’s in part thanks to the fish-consumption advisory signs posted on all public fishing piers along the bay. It turns out many fisher folks partake of potentially contaminated catches from San Diego Bay with knowledge of the health risks, as is the case with any nutritional “guilty pleasure.”

Along with the signs clearly posted on all public-fishing piers, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment offers an easy-to-use website that breaks down recommended safe-serving quantities of species of sea animals. “Women ages 46 and older and men ages 18 and older should not eat Shiner Perch or Topsmelt,” explains the state’s guidelines site. “They may safely eat a maximum of seven total servings per week of Pile Perch or Rainbow Surfperch, or two total servings per week of Black Perch, Diamond Turbot, Round Stingray, Shovelnose Guitarfish, Spiny Lobster, or Spotted Turbot, or one serving per week of Barred Sand Bass, Pacific Chub Mackerel, sharks, Spotted Sand Bass, or Yellowfin Croaker.”

According to Talley, the large Pacific oysters now living on the boulders that make up the armored shoreline around the bay are listed as one serving per week, same for barred or spotted sand bass.

“Of course, there still are no human consumption guidelines for some of the contaminants we found in the shellfish, so recommended serving sizes may change as we learn more,” she says. “And we didn’t look at biological contaminants like bacterial loads.”

Before eating bay oysters from the bay, Dr. Talley advises, first doing a little homework by checking these sites: California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Health Advisories and Closures for California Finfish, Shellfish and Crustaceans, as well as a website with current shellfish biotoxin advisories from California Department of Public Health and its newly unveiled map of shellfish advisories. Alternatively, call the department’s hotline at 800-553-4133.

They want us to just disappear

“I’m always on the water,” says commercial-fishing and small excursion fleet owner, Brian Kiyohara. “I love the bay. I love the ocean. But you know, although I wouldn’t say Coastkeeper and all these folks are against us or are our enemies, the overall perspective is they want guys like me out of the picture.”

Lament more than grievance characterizes Kiyohara’s voice. His American Anglers boats dock along San Diego Bay’s Point Loma Harbor near Scott Street.

“I’m the ultimate environmentalist, because the ocean is where I make my living. I’ll be the last one who’s going to pollute or overfish.”

Kiyohara feels attacked by efforts like (now shelved) Assembly Bill 3030, which would have doubled to about 30 percent California’s coastal waters that are off limits to commercial fishing. “Everybody who works out here on a daily basis is highly educated about their responsibilities,” he says. “We don’t fish on the bay. We go way out to sea.

“I see the Navy really getting on board too.”

Says Kiyohara, he and his seagoing colleagues feel sideswiped when they’re made the target of blame for all that troubles the planet’s waters. “Now you’ve got Leonardo DiCaprio out with this new documentary that basically says we should stop fishing and all become vegan.”

Stay out of the water

“Growing up in San Diego County, we were told to stay out of the water for 72 hours after each rainfall without fully understanding why,” Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation executive director Marco Gonzales said in a recent public statement.

Now, with his own surf-loving family, Gonzales is intent on suing the county because of alleged neglect of Mission Bay and other water resources.

“More than 30 years later, I’m telling my kids they can’t surf for three days after it rains. All the while, the county has been more inclined to push back on regulators than work towards any measure of real progress. At some point, government needs to be held accountable for its failure of leadership.”

The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, along with San Diego Coastkeeper, accuses county officials of having for decades, “repeatedly, persistently, and systemically failed to protect the region’s waterways and communities from the impacts of pollution.”

The county counters that it’s working hard to meet its obligations under the Clean Water Act.

Coastkeeper’s Matt O’Malley, the group’s executive director and its managing attorney, is also a plaintiff against San Diego County. The suit alleges that county officials have, at best negligently and at worst willfully, failed their legal obligation to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

O’Malley and Gonzales believe San Diego Bay can be a vibrant ecosystem and great recreational destination with military and commercial activities that thrive because of, rather than in spite, of good stewardship. “After a decade-long fight alongside our allies, we won a regulatory ruling to close the ecosystem-damaging South Bay Power Plant,” O’Malley points out. “Our litigation against Southwest Marine won important storm-water improvements along the bay front. And, our legal action directed at contaminated sediments led the Regional Water Quality Control Board to order longtime polluters to conduct a massive cleanup of their toxic pollution at the bottom of San Diego Bay, dredging and removing 140,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment.”

That, he says, led to new environments for fish species.

“We also negotiated a $15 million restoration plan with the Port of San Diego to turn the Campbell Shipyard into a thriving ecosystem and fish nursery.”

Other major changes, O’Malley says, include the “10th Avenue Marine Terminal and National City Marine Terminal, as well as private facilities like Rohr-UTC Aerospace in Chula Vista.”

O’Malley says Coastkeeper was a driving force in negotiating settlements for the future of the Chula Vista Bayfront revitalization project.

Will that future have room for commercial fishing enterprises and the people who’ve spent decades harvesting the ocean for a living? Collaboration with scientists and environmentalists may be key for San Diego Bay’s commercial fishing fleets. Brian Kiyohara says he’d be happy to chat with Talley. “I used to donate a lot of types of fish to [Birch] Scripps Aquarium,” Kiyohara recalls. “That was back when Ruth Shelley was head curator. She was really great. I’ll bet Dr. Talley knows who I’m talking about. I’m not here to be adversarial, and I’d love to have a chat about working with them again.”

But, says Kiyohara, one change he won’t help facilitate is killing San Diego-based commercial fishing. “I genuinely think that’s what some people want to see happen.”

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Comments
4

This article, at least the first section, was so dramatically edited that is it misleading in parts. The homeless are not the cause of water pollution. There are many sources of pollution in San Diego’s watersheds and coastal waters and we as a society are ALL contributors... And sometimes our pollution comes back to bite us all-- that’s the point of the first part of this article. You can stop here or read on for an explanation.

We directly contribute through littering and illegal dumping of mattresses, furniture, appliances- big things that may require a drive and cost a few bucks to dispose of properly (or waiting for one of the city’s free pick-up events). We indirectly contribute through our reliance on services and products that often unintentionally add to pollution (industrial waste, vehicle emissions, use of convenient single-use items, etc). We also have social challenges that contribute to pollution such as the homeless crisis, and that our busy lives cause us to choose convenience over the environment (not recycling as much as we can, not stopping to pick up litter, not reducing our use of single use packaging, etc). I’m not pointing fingers, I am a part of this, too.

San Diego Bay is an absolute treasure- from sand bass, seahorses, salt marshes and living shorelines to fishing harbors, public piers, navy bases, shipping terminals, parks and maritime museums. The diversity of life- both wild and human- in and around this bay is astonishing and we rely on it all. The bay can absorb some of our nutrient and contaminant inputs but not all, and our pollution can come back to bite us through trashed shorelines and fish with some pollutants and fibers (not clumps of blankets and mattresses!)

The good news is that since we each contribute to the pollution problem, we also have the power to solve it. The Port of San Diego, with their partners and colleagues, are always working towards a healthy bay and, along with an engaged city, can continue to make great progress in improving the bay and therefore our quality of life.

-Theresa Talley, California Sea Grant (based at Scripps Oceanography, UC San Diego)

May 20, 2021

Dr. Talley, I’d be grateful if you’d clarify (assuming it’s true), that by "first section" of the article bearing my byline, my name–my reputation as an honest journalist reporting in good faith information from my interviews, that you’re referring to the sub-headline, which unfortunately reads, "How the homeless contribute to water pollution."

As we discussed when I called you after I saw for the 1st time my article with that sub-head, I did NOT write those 7 words. Most readers will miss a key point in your comment: you mean the EDITOR-written sub-headline is problematic because it does exactly opposite of what you & I took care to convey in the actual story.

You were clear that people experiencing homelessness are not to blame for the bay's imperfect water quality. Those who read the article itself will see that society’s homelessness crisis, not people experiencing homelessness, is one among many contributors of water pollution.

I’ve now asked multiple times that the subhead be changed. I’m a freelancer who occasionally writes for the SD Reader. I’m grateful for the work. But I’ve never been inside the Reader’s newsroom. Former editor, Ernie Grimm, who just left the publication after 26 years is a supremely ethical writer’s writer. We didn’t always agree on everything, but my respect & gratitude for Ernie is immense. The new editor will no doubt reply soon to my requests to change the subhead. I’ll follow up again Monday & reach out to the publisher if I get no reply. I doubt that’ll be necessary. My own experience says a new job managing a bunch of freelancers is a lot in the beginning.

Again, I did not write, nor did I see the subhead prior to publication. Otherwise, I stand by my reporting in the body of the article.

Another problem I have with the subhead: I try never to refer to human beings who have nowhere to live as "the homeless." Referring to “the homeless” leads to singularization of the plural, turning "the homeless" to "a homeless." That makes a person who is experiencing homelessness sound like a different species, making it easier for some to ignore and/or harm them, whether by violence or negligence,

As an adult who experienced homelessness when I was a child, I’m keenly aware of the importance of respecting & honoring our fellow humans with no shelter. One need not have experienced homelessness to get that there's no such thing as "a homeless." There are people who have no home, and we must fix that.

To readers & to Dr. Talley, I fear the bay story may be overshadowed by this comment thread. I urge readers to note the understanding I share with Dr. Talley & return to the article to take in its substance.

Lastly, Dr. Theresa Talley is a passionate, gifted scientist & a San Diegan seeking to reveal facts about, & suggest solutions to improve, the quality of San Diego Bay and this region's natural environment.

-Thom Senzee Freelance Journalist

May 22, 2021

Thanks, Thom, for clarifying for everyone. This is confirming that my comments above were in reference to the editor-written sub-heading. I agree with Thom Senzee's comments above and hope that this exchange doesn't detract from the story, but rather provides clarification and more detail about these complicated socio-ecological challenges. I very much enjoyed working with you on your article, Thom, and appreciate your integrity and efforts.

-Theresa Talley

May 22, 2021

With all due respect to both of you, this conversation is detracting from the story, and if you want to save your professional reputation, perhaps you should be having this conversation offline. In privacy. Readers understand editor-written sub-heading, and we also understand that they're written to grab the readers attention, and draw in even the most disinterested reader. Try not to be so sensitive. I enjoyed the article. Thank you.

May 22, 2021

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