Daniel Pop doesn’t care for salmon. He grew up in Romania catching carp, catfish, perch.
They’re bottom-feeders that like dirty water, he said: “They’ve got the stink.”
“This is the fish we have in our country. We don’t have salmon,” he said. “From where I lived, the sea was far away – I’m talking 600 kilometers. So we fished in lakes and rivers, dirty waters. That’s our fish tradition.”
When he fries up his favorite catch, perch, he invites his friends over to eat.
“When they hear about perch, everybody’s there,” he said. “If I would say, ‘Oh I got a salmon,’ nobody would come.”
Pop understands that the water in Columbia Slough, where he fishes every week on his days off, is dirty.
The slough lies between the Columbia and Willamette Rivers in the most industrialized section of Portland. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has found high concentrations of the banned industrial lubricant polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) in the slough sediment and has launched a cleanup project to reduce pollution in the waterway. The state has issued a fish advisory warning people to take precautions when eating fish in the slough to avoid ingesting too many toxins.
But the warnings about potential health risks from eating fish from the slough don’t worry Pop.
“So far, I don’t worry – as long as I see the fish moving,” he said. “If I see the fish dead, that’s a warning. If I see a floating fish, that’s a problem. But as long as the fish is moving and he can live in that water I don’t have a problem.”
He gave one of his catfish to Columbia Riverkeeper to have it tested for contaminants including heavy metals, PCB and flame retardants. In a few weeks, he’ll get the results.
Pop said the water in Columbia Slough, dirty as it is, is still cleaner than the waters he would fish in Romania.
“In Romania, we’d see dead cows floating in the river,” he said. “It was much worse than this.”
He prefers to catch his own fish, and there aren’t many places in Portland where you can find the kind of fish he likes to eat. The bank he fishes in Kelley Point Park gets so packed with fishermen that sometimes he can’t find a spot to set his line.
“Carp, they like dirty water,” he said. “You have to find this kind of water for carp.”
Pop said he prefers his own catch to food he could get elsewhere: “I’d rather eat this than McDonald’s.”