Pennsylvanians find quiet fishing spots along city waterfronts

    Jeremy Viejegas casts his line into the Schuylkill River in Reading. (Jessica Kourkounis/for WHYY)

    Jeremy Viejegas casts his line into the Schuylkill River in Reading. (Jessica Kourkounis/for WHYY)

    Here’s what some of them have to say about urban fishing.

    Keystone Crossroads has been getting ready to launch a series on waterfronts in Pennsylvania. Our reporting has taken us to riverfront pop-up parks, along flood protection walls and on kayak trips down the Schuylkill River, and beyond.

    In many cities, we have found people fishing along the riverfront. Here’s what they had to say about fishing in the city. (Click the play buttons to hear their voices.)

    An oasis from the inner city

    On a hot summer day in Chester, we found William Pinder, 29, fishing on the banks of the Delaware River.

    Pinder said he has been coming down to the waterfront for years. Fishing in this spot keeps him calm, he said.

    Chester, by many accounts, is a city in distress. It has one of the highest homicide rates in the state, with 88 murders per 100,000 residents in 2014. In Philadelphia, the number was 16. Still, residents like Pinder manage to find peace on Chester’s riverfront.

    Further down the pier, Chris Ruhl, a 54-year-old from Collingdale, Pennsylvania, used chicken liver to bait catfish on a hot summer day.

    Ruhl told us that despite Chester’s reputation for violence, he’s not afraid to come to the city.

    Nearby, 44-year-old Lynnewood resident David Lane fished alongside his girlfriend’s son, Joshua. Lane grew up in Chester, and he talked about how this spot used to be run-down and overgrown.

    It was a good place to catch fish, though. The area is overfished now, but it’s still a nice place to bring kids, he said.

    Lane said the city should support waterfront programs for young people in Chester, in an effort to keep them off the streets.

    A source of sustenance

    You’d be forgiven for thinking that eating the fish caught in city waters, the longtime dumping ground for Pennsylvania’s industries, might not be safe.

    Most of the people we interviewed told us they eat their catches.

    Andrew Gazillo, 20 years old, was fishing in along Pottstown’s waterfront. Gazillo likes frying up the fish and eating them, he said.

    Gazillo sometimes sees trash in the river, he said, but overall he thinks the water quality is fine.

    Jeremy Viejegas, 28, fished off a pier at Riverview Park in Reading. Viejegas serves the fish he catches to people in need, he said.

    The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission puts out an advisory every year on how many meals people should eat from various waterways.

    The commission recommends that people limit the amount of fish they eat from the Schuylkill River around Pottstown and Reading, because some of the fish are contaminated with PCBs.

    It is possible to clean the fish of most contaminants (except mercury) by trimming the fat deposits and removing the skin.

    The Fish Commission says children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and women in their childbearing years should be particularly careful when it comes to eating contaminated fish. In some states, officials are concerned that low-income and immigrant communities might not be getting the information they need about the health risks of eating the fish they catch.

    Interviews by Marielle Segarra, Jessica Kourkounis and Naomi Starobin

    Do you fish off your city’s riverfront? Share your story with us in the comments section, @pacrossroads, or on Facebook. And watch for our series on city waterfronts, launching in mid-August.

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