ELIZABETH, NJ – Surrounded by a crowd of eagerly listening students, Jonny Rosser of the Fish Advisory told them what he tells them every year: Don’t eat the fish you catch in the Elizabeth waterway.

Rosser brings his message of Catch and Release every year to Environmental Day, hosted by Future Cities. This year, nearly 200 students from 13 schools crowded into the Peterstown Community Center, April 28.

“We want people to enjoy the sport of fishing,” said Rosser. “Just don’t eat what you catch.”

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The waterways in question are Marciante Jackson-Miller Park, John’s Cove, the Marina, and Veteran’s Memorial Park. They are home to fish, crabs, snails, eels, and shrimp, are filled with pollutants, some of it cancer-causing, from several sources such as overflow sewage and oil spillage from passing ships. It is a busy waterway. Across from Veteran’s Memorial Park, there is a large container facility in Staten Island that is responsible for a lot of ship traffic. These pollutants create serious health hazards, said Rosser. 

How to tell if a fish is sick? Rosser says to look for clear eyes, red gills, scales bright and shiny, no fishy smell, and no fin rot. Sounds easy? But it is not, according to Rosser. “Fish spawn in the polluted water, and these agents come into the cell structure of the fish. There is no way to tell if the fish is healthy.”

The Fish Advisory was just one several exhibitions and workshops at Environmental Day. Ken Ward of The Historical Society of Elizabeth fascinated students with his tales of Elizabeth as a fur trading center. The city flood resolution project had students crowding engineer Dan Loomis. Other workshops were presented by GEO Health, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Coast Guard.

Alongside with the professionals, student groups presented their projects. “This is not just a field trip, there is preparation before hand,” said Aaron Goldblatt, director of curriculum and instruction for the Board of Education. “We are very grateful for their (FCI’s) support of the school system, and for the commitment of FCI in getting our students to develop a conscience when it comes to the importance of the environment.”  

Students from Dwyer Academy demonstrated an oil cleaning lab. “It is not a way to get all of the oil, but it will reduce it,” said junior Tatiana Huertas. With fellow students Myra Kenner, Eric Cuadrado, and Kaythlen Feliciano, she first weighed a feather, then dipped it in oil. The weight more than doubled. Birds that are oil soaked become too heavy to fly.

Another Dwyer student, senior Fabrice Felix, who is on his way to Rutgers as an engineering student next year, spoke about hydroponics, growing plants without soil that can be grown year around. “The population is growing and the amount of land is reducing,” Felix explained. “One thousand square feet of hydroponic plants can grow the equivalent of three to five acres of food.”

Edison Tech senior Kevin Gutierrez explained the distillation unit, a part of process technology. He plans to continue his education at Middlesex County College, which has a program in process technology. “Middlesex graduated seven students last year, and they received 25 job offers,” said teacher Michael Chang. “We want to get the word out that this is a viable career path.”

The Edison Environmental Club challenged the visitors to a re-cycling game. Dwyer Environmental Club set up microscopes showing bacteria found in polluted water.

Future Cities’ Environmentals Group members Stalin Bermeo and Juan Cruz spent their Spring break testing the PH of the water in Ursino Park. They will take their findings to the national Environmentals meeting in Washington in June.

The audience was greeted by Mayor Christian Bollwage, Councilman William Gallman, and Joseph Seebode, deputy district engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers, who strongly encourage the students to consider a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career.