Reel conundrum: New signs ban fishing in toxic Gowanus, but some say they don’t do enough to discourage sport

Reel conundrum: New signs ban fishing in toxic Gowanus, but some say they don’t do enough to discourage sport
Photo by Julianne Cuba

New signs banning fishing will likely soon line the fetid Gowanus Canal after a group of Gowanusaurs on Tuesday voted to approve the placards following several months of debate over their language — which some locals said they still aren’t happy with.

“I think a large number of us continues to dissent slightly,” said Chrissy Remein, a member of the Gowanus Community Advisory Group’s Water Quality Committee, who also works for the environmental-watchdog group Riverkeeper.

New York State Department of Health officials’ third draft of the signs — which 20 Advisory Group members voted for, and two voted against — now say “no fishing or crabbing” and “no swimming” in English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese, underneath graphics of the activities covered by the universal “no” symbol of a red circle with a slash through it.

The placards also advise “caution while boating” in the three languages, with a graphic of that activity covered by a red exclamation point and encircled in the same color.

State health honchos designed the latest signs after Advisory Group members bashed a previous draft that included similar graphics and nearly identical language, except for the phrase “during dredging operations” — words the locals claimed would lead anglers to believe it’s safe to fish at the toxic Superfund site as long as they don’t cast lines at the same time that any work for the Feds’ ongoing cleanup is being performed.

And the second version followed an initial sign the Gowanusaurs also panned, which, instead of banning angling, just warned fishers about the dangers of consuming marine life caught in the waterway tainted with life-threatening chemicals, poop, dead cats, and other filth folks might not want their catch of the day hooked among.

In rejecting the first and second drafts, some locals asked for signs that showed a fish on a hook with an “X” over it — which is more or less what the state returned with the third time around. But those who opposed the latest iteration claimed it did not go far enough to ban people from eating anything from the canal, even though the placard clearly bans fishing in it in general.

“It just seems very strange to me,” said Advisory Group member Rita Miller. “This tiny, filthy body of water has all kinds of garbage in it, chemicals, and has been declared a Superfund site.”

State officials previously claimed they could not create such signs because the data they use to determine the safety of eating marine life from Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory is from tests on creatures swimming throughout New York Harbor, which the canal’s water flows in and out of.

And if locals really want signs that prohibit eating fish and crabs from the Gowanus, they should hire their own experts to collect specimen from the canal and send them to state labs, where they can be tested in order to determine whether a more specific advisory is necessary along the waterway, a state Health Department employee told the Advisory Group.

“We would be in support of having additional data, but don’t have the resources to go out and collect data ourselves,” said Scarlett McLaughlin, a public-health specialist for the agency. “We’re trying to work with you guys to get information we need to have a specific Gowanus advisory.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Rejected: The second draft of the sign, which locals panned for incorporating the words “during dredging operations.”
File photo by Julianne Cuba