We’ve all seen em: the fishers who, poles in hand, sit alongside the East River, gazing forlornly into the putrid, black waters below. Everything in our bones tells us that we’re witnessing something wrong here. The East River? And food? They simply do not compute.

So most of us buy flounder from our neighborhood fish shop where, sure, we may have to lock eyes with our sustenance before his head gets hacked off (awkward), but we’re generally assured that wherever fish man was lurking prior to this frozen existence, he was far from the all-too-familiar body of water that seems more like a long-running joke than a life source. But, really, how at risk are the brave few who somehow wind up catching their dinner from the East River?

Unless you’re an eco-nerd of some sort or perhaps an outdoorslady, the East River is simply the natural barrier between Manhattan and Brooklyn. It’s just OK to look at from the J train while we’re dragged over the Williamsburg Bridge, but arguably less so the closer you get to the waterfront. Perhaps it has something to do with the billions of gallons of raw sewage and polluted storm water that flow in there every year (which we all have a feeling is the case whether or not we know the exact numbers). Don’t forget the proximity of Superfund Sites and that little issue known as the ExxonMobil oil spill.

Still, quite a few fishermen come down to the banks every day. B+B spoke with Kaitlyn Parkins, education director of the Lower East Side Ecology Center, about what kinds of fish one can hope to catch in the East River (which actually isn’t a river at all, as we came to find out) and who these river regulars might be. Turns out that many of them are Mandarin-speaking New Yorkers. And while at least some of the fish do end up as meals, not everyone is out there to catch food.

And as for the risk of getting sick from all those toxins, the Department of Health has some serious advisories in place. Please, take heed y’all. But James MacDonald, a fisheries expert with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) argues that these concerns might be a bit overstated. Still, we probably won’t be lining up to munch on these sea creatures anytime soon.

Video produced by Kim Bode.