Friends have mentioned that there’s a group of people who regularly fish the waters of Halletts Cove, found on the East River coastline here in Astoria on Vernon Boulevard between 31st Avenue and 30th Drive. People fish all over the New York Harbor, of course, and will even dip a hooked line into my beloved Newtown Creek while seeking dinner – if you can believe that. Environmental officialdom sets forth a series of recommendations and rules for the consumption of fish and invertebrates captured hereabouts, which you can read for yourself right here. The same information is presented to you when obtaining a fishing license, which the folks in Albany presume the lady in the shot above has obviously attained. There are a couple of signs found at Halletts Cove advising against fishing here, but these signs are in English, and this is Astoria.
As you might guess from the clothing worn by the woman in the shot above, English is likely not her native tongue, and an attempt I made at conversation with her confirmed that assumption.
She had several traps played out in the water, of the type which you’d use to snare “killies” or minnows — this sort of thing. Friends who frequent this spot have told me that this lady, and several others, are harvesting fish from the East River on a regular if not daily basis.
More after the jump…
Halletts Cove is a little bay, one which hides a few secret features beneath the water. It used to be one of the outlets for a Newtown Creek sized waterway called Sunswick Creek, and about twenty feet from shore there’s meant to be a DEP return pipe that carries processed “clean” sewer plant water out to the East River. There used to be a motto at DEP which went something like “the answer to pollution is dilution,” or so I’ve been told. Kayakers love Hallett’s Cove for launching their watercraft, people bring their dogs here on weekends to play and splash, and it’s an actual sandy beach on the East River – which is so rare, it’s a bit like spotting a unicorn.
This is a rather auspicious locale, as well, as Astoria grew out of Hallets Cove.
From 1896’s History of Long Island City, New York:
Astoria was settled by William Hallett, an Englishman, who had previously belonged to the Colonists of New England. He obtained from Gov. Stuyvesant, December 1, 1652. a grant of about 160 acres extending from Sunswick Creek to Berrian Island. The Indians having destroyed his house and plantation he removed to Flushing, but subsequently returned to his homestead where he lived to the age of ninety years. Mr. Hallett was of the Quaker faith toward which he displayed a loyalty which left a deep impression upon the primitive period in which he lived. From its original owner, that section of the city was known as Hallett’s Cove for two hundred years.
Unfortunately, fecal bacteria levels in the water are consistently high. Some of my buddies and colleagues are involved with a group called HarborLab, which recently worked with NYC DEP to ascertain the source of the high bacterial counts here. NYC DEP was able to prove that there was some sort of plumbing issue at the Astoria Houses NYCHA complex, and uncapped drains were allowing raw sewage egress directly into the water.
The full story can be found at harborlab.org. This NYCHA plumbing problem has since been addressed, but the HarborLab reports that “bacteria counts remain elevated days after the New York City Housing Authority capped open drains that allow sewage to discharge from the Astoria Houses into Hallets Cove” in this post.
The subject of subsistence fishing along area waterways is something that most of the government folks I meet reject. What I can tell you is entirely unscientific, and based strictly on personal observation. Saying that, I spend a tremendous amount of time photographing the waterfront – especially along the East River and its tributaries. There are a LOT of people who live off of what they catch in the East River. A whole lot of people.
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.