March 11, 2005

National City Spotlight:

One Fish, Two Fish, Sick Fish, Bad Fish

By Ted Godshalk

On Thursday, March 3 the school children of National City celebrated the annual event known as Read Across America. To the students, however, this day is known as Dr. Seuss Day. They attend school in their pajamas and read the wonderful literature of Seuss all day. Community members, elected officials, and other warmhearted adults give generously of their time to read to the children during the day’s proceedings.

This guy Seuss, a long-time resident of la Jolla, was an amazing author and interesting man. Born in 1904 as Theodor Seuss Geisel, the good doctor (never a real doctor—just a fun title to carry around) wrote over 45 books, worked on animation for the government during World War II, and over the course of his prolific working years won three Academy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. A favorite book of many early readers is One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. With a playful rhyme, Dr. Seuss engages his reader, providing repetition that helps the reader gain confidence with literacy and instills the pure and simple love for books. Few readers know that Geisel gained his literary start by illustrating fantastical insects for a pesticide product. This is interesting because later in his career he produced one of his most popular children’s books, The Lorax, which has an environmental theme.

Two days after Dr. Seuss Day, on Saturday morning, I had to tell young Kassie M. and the other members of the Egret Club from Kimball School that they couldn’t go kayaking in South San Diego Bay as we had planned. It had rained the night before and we needed to wait for the polluted runoff to clear out, to disperse, to wash out to the great mixing bowl called the Pacific Ocean. Our love for the coastline is contradicted by the way we live. In The Lorax, it’s a factory making useless consumer products while destroying the forests, gumming up the rivers, and harming the wildlife. It really is the same here in Paradise, AKA San Diego County.

Many of the most enjoyable moments of my childhood were spent in the company of my grandfather. My love of the outdoors originated in those days as I camped and fished along the Russian River, the Salton Sea, and Lake Cuyamaca. La Mesa’s Lake Murray was just down the street and it provided the Saturday morning diversion of searching for the ever-elusive bluegill. Our catch was not for eating, it was the fishing that was always so attractive to me—that and spending time with my Grandpa.

I still live near the water, we all do. At this time it is San Diego Bay, and on this clear winter day it shimmers in the sunlight, a sapphire jewel so smooth and beautiful. But last Saturday it was the color of an old paper grocery bag that had been rubbed in a mud puddle.

It is common knowledge that we should avoid the ocean’s water after a rainstorm. In fact, the polluted runoff in our region is notorious for its complete and thorough ability to close down and to restrict the public’s use and enjoyment of those prized areas that are abundant with natural resources. Likewise, four different studies in the 1990’s and one as recent as last year have warned us that the fish of the bay are toxic to humans. The source of the pollution in the fish appears to be the mercury and lead laden sediment lurking below the bay waters adjacent to NASSCO and Southwestern Marine and near the Navy berths. At our local fishing pier at Pepper Park, there is but one warning sign.

It is very unfortunate for the young kids of our community to not take part in the experience of fishing in our local waters with no fear of health risks, but moreover, it is the subsistence fishers who fish to feed their families who are most affected. Only recently have we learned that there is a sizable number of families who eat their catch out of San Diego Bay. A survey released last Friday by the Environmental Health Coalition notes that 56 percent of the fishers said they fish at least once a week and one quarter reported fishing four to seven times each week. 61 percent of the fishers stated they consistently eat the fish they catch. Ninety percent of the surveyed fishers live south of the Coronado Bridge, and many are Filipinos and Latinos from National City. The children of these families are most at risk.

New Assembly member Lori Saldaña joined the EHC in calling for the “a cleanup of our own front yard,” and she promises to work with government agencies to use the precautionary principle and act before the problems get any worse. We have trusted government to manage our bay, our creeks, and our fish and now pressure is being put upon government to remove over one million tons of polluted sediment. This would be a start. In addition, keeping the urban runoff clean takes everyone’s help. Little things like washing your car on the lawn, picking up after your pet, and using fewer pesticides and fertilizers all help. We should set a goal: by the end of this decade we will have clean bay waters so that if Kassie, and the children coming after her, want to kayak on a clear March morning after a rainstorm they can. And if they want to drop in a fishing line and snooze in the sun they can do so with pride, secure in the knowledge that the adults have done something significant for them. Dr. Seuss and the Lorax would agree I’m sure.

Ted Godshalk can be reached at

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