Fishing for a cleaner Anacostia River

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“It seems hard to promote sustainability on one hand and then on the other promote bringing six Wal-Marts to D.C.,” he said, criticizing the megaretailer’s green credentials.

“We will really become a leader when our decisions are consistent with creating a sustainable city, and not just an environmentally one,” he said.

Working on the river

On Friday, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Lyon again set out, this time for the Potomac River with their colleague Shellie Bronis, a fisheries biologist who has been with DDOE since November, having come over from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“We’ve been able to coax a few really talented people away from Maryland DNR,” Mr. Ryan said as he guided the boat down the Anacostia toward Hains Point, where it meets the Potomac. “Shellie and Luke are two of them.”

Owing to the lack of rainfall this spring, there is only a light chop on the water as the tail end of rush hour is visible on the bridges overhead.

“Usually, it’s whitewater through here and it can get a little hairy,” Mr. Ryan said. “You’ve got to respect the river, and it can be a little intimidating. But the higher flows bring the fish.”

On this day, the crew will be going past Chain Bridge to look for snakeheads to be tagged and measured. It seems strange to call it work, given the crew’s love for being on water, but Mr. Ryan said his people often put in a full day. In the spring and summer, they go out again at night after a good rainfall when the river swells.

Mr. Ryan once was an aspiring tournament bass fisherman until a colleague lured him to D.C. Fisheries.

Mr. Lyon said he always knew he wanted to be a biologist. He worked summers for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources before attending Virginia Tech to pursue his passion.

Rounding Hains Point, Mr. Ryan guns the engine and the boat planes through one of the few no-wake zones on this stretch and sprays the crew with water. He slows until the boat is clear of the 14th Street Bridge, then guns it again until he reaches Memorial Bridge, where it will be slow going from here.

Rowing teams, kayakers and sport fisherman dot the river ahead. About a half-mile up a large rock cropping in the middle of the channel marks where the river is at its deepest. Mr. Ryan measures a depth of 79 feet, though some days it can be as deep as 85 feet.

The sight of anglers along the banks and in small motorboats and rented skiffs sparks a debate among the crew over what constitutes better eating: white perch or striped bass, also known as stripers or rockfish.

Mr. Ryan said that because both fish — and shad, which are benefiting from more conservative regulation in recent years — grow up in the ocean and migrate to fresh water to spawn, they are not as contaminated as resident species.

“I’ve been making the argument for years that white perch is better eating than rockfish,” Mr. Ryan said, prompting a different point of view from Ms. Bronis, who said she soaks the rockfish in milk before cooking.

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