Exactly how many people are fishing in the Anacostia River’s polluted water is not yet known, but Anacostia Watershed Society advocacy director Brent Bolin tells us that he’s seen a large increase in the number of fishermen since the recession began.
WAMU’s Jessica Gould reports that starting in June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be sponsoring a survey to find out who is fishing in the river and why.
Many of the fishermen Bolin sees have coolers used to store caught fish, which leads him to believe they are likely taking them home for food.
Gould spoke with one such fisherman, Bobby Jones.The District resident has been out of work for about five years, and Gould reports that catfish from the Anacostia constitute “a big part of his diet.”
But Anacostia Riverkeeper Dottie Yunger, who advocates for clean water, says eating catfish can be dangerous. She says studies show many of the brown bullheaded catfish in the Anacostia have contaminants in their tissues and cancerous lesions on their bodies.
“Will you get immediately sick from eating a fish from the river that might be contaminated? Probably not,” she says. “You may not feel any effect. But there are effects that are happening at the cellular level, at the molecular level. It’s affecting brain development, it’s affecting memory. It’s affecting cognitive skills.”
Despite the danger in eating the river’s fish, Bolin says fishing is quite common off of the Maryland and District shores of the Anacostia River.
“There are a few spots in which you almost always see someone out there. I think it’s pretty prevalent and it’s growing,” he says. “One of the problems is the warnings about how many fish you can eat. For one thing, they’re grossly out of date. And in D.C., you get the notice when you get your fishing license. Well, how many people do that? Especially someone with a language barrier?”