“The harbour is so clean these days, I’m happy to eat the fish – but don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t go to Homebush and eat the fish.”
Recreational fishing has emerged as one of the few outdoor activities that can continue under the public health order to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advice from NSW Police is that fishing is permitted, as long as people follow the rules of physical distancing and not having gatherings of more than two people.
NSW Minister for Primary Industries Adam Marshall posted on his Facebook page on Wednesday that fishing was “definitely” still allowed, because it was exercise and some people fished for food for their families.
Mr Sims said he avoided bottom-dwelling fish from the harbour but “pelagic” species such as kingfish, Australian salmon, tailor and bonito lived near the surface in the open water and tended to swim in from the ocean.
Mr Sims was upset to learn of plans to dredge the harbour to create trenches for the Western Harbour Tunnel project, because of the potential to stir up pollution.
The Herald reported in March that the NSW government was withholding information about the composition of the toxins on the harbour floor.
James Hancock from Wahroonga feels the same way about the water quality at Balls Head in Waverton, on the northern side of the harbour but also west of the bridge.
“Balls Head has got a lot of water moving past it very quickly and it’s very deep,” Mr Hancock said. “It’s also only a few hundred metres from the bridge.”
He catches leather jackets, brim, kingfish and Australian salmon and has no qualms about eating them.
Craig Shannon from Liverpool is happy to eat fish caught further up the river around the Gladesville Bridge and Abbotsford.
“I have been fishing the Parramatta river for nearly 40 years now and never worried about the pollution at all,” he said.
Stan Konstantaras, president of the Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW, said the dredging environmental impact statement was inadequate – especially since so many people eat the fish they catch in the harbour despite dietary advice.
“The EIS is all about turbidity and dispersion, not what the fish will eat in the soup the dredging creates,” Mr Konstantaras said. “This is not acceptable and baseline data from sampling must be collected now and compared to after the project is completed.”
Mr Konstantaras also called on the government to create more floating platforms for fishing in the eastern harbour and to invest in community education in multiple languages about food safety.
“I could go any day and find you 100 people west of the bridge with the intention to eat everything they catch. A fish is a fish in their eyes.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said it did extensive testing for the planned undersea tunnel from Rozelle to the northern beaches.
“Our detailed assessments, including human health studies, don’t recommend amending guidelines for the consumption of fish or crustaceans, during or following the project,” the spokesperson said.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer for The Sun-Herald, focusing on social affairs.