East River Fishing: Friendships, Stripers and a little PCB

11/29/2011

Article By Gabe Stommel

Down below the steel underbelly of the Williamsburg Bridge, there is a diverse community of fishermen casting lines into the East River.

Although many of them do not speak the same language, they know each other, and each others families. They help each other out where they are able to. Some of these fishermen choose to eat their catch and some do not. Fishermen who "catch and release" share what they harvest with those who will use it to feed themselves, their wives and their children.

At this point, you might be thinking the following:

"Hey, what the hell are you telling us this for?! It is very dangerous to ingest PCBs aka polychlorinated byphenyls aka harmful residual toxic waste!"

You are right, but not everyone cares or has the luxury of caring about PCBs. They are simply trying to eat or trying to make a living selling their catch to the seafood vendors in Chinatown. Don't buy striped bass from Chinatown if you are worried about PCBs.

This weekend while strolling along the river, I got to talking with Lower East Side native, James Martin. 

James has been catching and releasing stripers, bluefish, toadfish, eels, flounder, blue crabs and more for 9 years on this turf. The day I ran into him was his last day of the season.

James has his finger on the pulse of the Lower Manhattan fishing scene.

 "The [fishermen] are very friendly people," he says.  

He knew the man to the left of where we were standing who showed up on a child-sized huffy bicycle rigged with a homemade tackle box. He also knew the man to the right of us who had caught what looked like a cusk and some small white perch. 

One man's dinner: Looks to me like a baby cusk and perhaps two white perch.  I'm not 100% sure on the perch, but they don't really look like scup.

James never eats what he catches in the East River. Although he believes that a lot of the river garbage has been cleaned up some over the years, and fish populations are more plentiful than before, he still worries about PCB levels coming from the GE plant upriver. He sent me an article explaining that between the years of 1947 and 1977 two GE towers 50 miles north of Albany leaked 1.3 million lbs. of PCBs into the Hudson. The toxins are now found in sediment, water, wildlife and even people all the way down to New York Harbor. They are working on cleaning the mess up completely, reports the Riverkeeper... Might take a while to scrub clean, but in the meantime people will keep on hookin' their East River fish.

-Thank you so much to JAMES MARTIN for making this article possible with your firsthand knowledge and professional photographs. Also, thank you for keeping it real down on the East River fishing scene. You are awesome!

For more fishy stories by our friend Gabe, check out gabethefishbabe.com!

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