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  • Joseph Dolman

Fishing for trouble in New York's waters

I totally get why people love to fish off Manhattan's Hudson and East River esplanades.

It must be a rush to try your luck in the churning waters around one of the most overbuilt, hyperactive islands on earth. I'm guessing that a close relationship with the natural world, amid the ungodly 24/7 screech of Manhattan, is food for the soul. As the cost of living veers into the stratosphere, a free fresh meal may look irresistible, too.

But you need to stifle the temptation to bite. Here's why:

  • You can get seriously ill. Don't let the dramatically beautified shores of Manhattan and Brooklyn fool you. Waters surrounding the city may still contain PCBs, dioxin and cadmium. These elements can cause birth defects or lead to cancer, warns the state.

  • The city's sanitation system is full of surprises. Raw sewage is occasionally dumped into local waterways when heavy rain overwhelms treatment plants.

  • Then there's the submerged stuff New Yorkers have dumped into the water -- like the graveyard for stripped-down '70s-era cars on the bottom of the East River between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. New York Magazine says dead bodies often stay underwater in the winter and surface in April, when currents can send them to certain nooks near the Manhattan Bridge or the Seaport.

Oddly, the perils of eating fish yanked from city waters managed to elude the 12-year reign of the Bloomberg nanny state -- unlike the dangers of jumbo sodas and cigarette smoking. The NYC Parks Department allows fishing from its waterfronts unless signs specifically forbid it.

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is less blithe. It advises everyone not to eat American eels, channel catfish and white catfish caught in waters around Manhattan. And it tells women younger than 50 and kids under 15 to avoid all fish caught in the neighborhood.

Still, I wonder who listens. I've seen guys in the summer in East River Park pulling fish out of the water just downstream from the ConEd plant. They hang their harvest on chainlink fences for scaling and cleaning as charcoal grills glow red in the dusk. It looks like great family fun.

When you don't have big bucks to spend on entertainment, you do what you must to make city life work. It's all about tradeoffs, of course. But some come with nasty hidden hooks.

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