Good news for extreme locavores: the 2011 Brooklyn Fishing Derby is officially under way. The pristine waters of the East River are swimming with striped bass and bluefish just waiting to be caught by some of New York’s more adventurous fishermen. Started by the infamous Dr. Claw (a/k/a Ben Sargent), the contest spans from Red Hook to Long Island City, with the prize going to whoever snags the biggest fish. Last year’s winner was a doozy: a 47-inch striped bass caught off of North 6th Street in Williamsburg. So, just how safe is fishing in the East River?
Pretty safe. In a story I wrote for Edible Brooklyn, I found that the river is as clean as it has been in 100 years. The official policy, via the government:
The New York State Department of Health recommends eating no more than a half-pound of bluefish or striped bass per month from the East River, plus filleting the fish in a way to avoid the skin, dark meat and fat, where toxins like PCBs, DDT and cadmium accumulate.
Basically, fish that are just passing through, like striped bass and bluefish, are fine, while bottom-feeders like catfish and crabs are not. Anyway, the contest runs through November 5 and requires a $40 registration fee, which includes a T-shirt, official measuring tape, and membership to the Brooklyn Urban Anglers Association. Once you catch a fish, all you have to do is measure it and send a photo or video of it to the derby officials.
As for cooking the fish, take the advice of New York City’s fifth-greatest chef, David Pasternack, who, along with Sargent, recommends cooking bluefish in the style of the fisherman: kissed by lemon, seasoned simply with salt and pepper, smothered in mayo, and then broiled. A pretty good consolation prize if you don’t happen to catch a 50-inch monster.