NJ DEP Warns Against Eating Fish, Crabs from Passaic River

By Michael Hill

A father and son fishing on the contaminated Arthur Kill in Elizabeth.

“I’m out here trying to teach my son how to fish and have a good time. I’ve been coming down here for years and years and years. You ever eat any the fish out of here? I used to before but people been getting sick so I come for the sport. My father did it with me. This is what I do. This is how I get away from the streets. This is how I free my mind..”

Kevin knows the dangers of the streets and the dangers that lurk in this water beneath the signs — in Spanish and English — that warn of poisons such as dioxins, PCBs and mercury.

“so you catch it and release it? Unless somebody want it,” said Kevin.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has warned the public about fishing in these and other waters in northern New Jersey and so have others morning, noon and night.

“It is equivalent to cigarette smoking or any other long term illness the longer you continue to eat it the more likely you are to get cancer. So for people who’ve been fishing and eating from here for years and didn’t get sick, what do you say? Just like cigarette smoking there’s a moment where because of cumulative risk it reveals itself medically,” said Michelle Doran McBean of Future City, Inc.

Future City is an Elizabeth-based non-profit that collaborates with Elizabeth city government, police and the private sector.

“The city almost daily repairs the fences so people can not get on the rocks and fish. There are people who keep wire cutters in their car and cut it,” said McBean.

The state says it would be hard to study and determine if anyone eating fish or blue claw crabs from these waters and the Passaic River over the years have ever gotten sick or developed cancer. Despite the warnings, some crabbers still eat from these waters.

The state says awareness of the contamination was moderate in the 90s and then the state found the more it spread the word, the more the public caught on about the fishing advisory and the ban against harvesting blue crabs.

“Certainly I believe they are working. This is the reason for the annual reminder to folks new to the area and ones who’ve been fishing for a while,” said Dr. Gary Buchanan of the DEP.

If the signs aren’t enough of a reminder, then the risk of getting fined is. Fines range from $100 to $3,000.

The catch and release days will end after the state and the federal EPA dredge and rid some eight miles of waterway of the toxins used to produce agent orange for the Vietnam War.