Published July 29, 2012 09:25 AM

Is it Safe to Eat that Fish you caught?

On a recent afternoon, a few hours before dusk, Brian Watson, of South Providence, sat in a red fabric lawn chair on the wooden dock at India Point Park. Watson was fishing for bluefish and striped bass — "blues and stripers" — as he has for the past seven years, and he always eats his catch.


Does he worry about the safety of taking fish from heavily urban waters? "If the water wasn’t good, they wouldn't let us fish," he said.

Watson isn’t alone. Local urban fishermen and women can be found at city shores almost every evening. They fish at India Point Park, or further up the Seekonk River at the abandoned railroad bridge off Gano Street. They lean their poles against the railing on South Water Street, under Interstate 195. It’s a cozy scene: friends and family chatting and laughing, clustering around the poles when someone gets a bite, lone fishermen squinting calmly at the water.

The water itself is less picturesque; it’s not uncommon to see algae-greened plastic bottles and other trash bobbing in the current. But more threatening is the urban waters' invisible burden: mercury and chemicals such as carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The popular fishing spot under I-195 connects to the Woonasquatucket River, and is therefore downstream from Centredale Manor, the 9.4-acre Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site in North Providence, a known source of PCBs and dioxins.

Watson hadn't heard about mercury or PCBs. Neither had Rafael Perez, of Washington Park, who fishes under I-195 with pieces of clam belly he buys on Thurbers Avenue. Perez has fished regularly there, where the Providence River nears Narragansett Bay, for two years. Like Watson, his fish end up on the dinner table.

"I see a lot of debris and garbage when the tide is coming in and out," Perez said, but added that he doubts the fish are unsafe to eat. Occasionally, he sees televised safety advisories tell him not to fish. Logically, Perez figures if there's no advisory, there's no problem.

Young couple fishing via Shutterstock.

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