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Trashcan-Tilapia Farmer Arrested for Placing Mermaid Sticker on Light Pole

By Patrick Wall | December 14, 2012 7:17am

WILLIAMSBURG — How did Christopher Toole, a former banker who breeds tilapia in trashcans and teaches inner-city children to farm, wind up Wednesday in Brooklyn Central Booking?

“In my enthusiasm for sustainable fish, I got a little carried away,” explains Toole, 47.

Or, as the criminal complaint put it, a police officer “observed defendant placing a sticker, that stated Gabe the Fish Babe, on a New York City light post.”

Toole had traveled Wednesday from his apartment in Riverdale to Williamsburg to promote his latest venture — a community-supported fishery, or CSF, where members pay for a small share of the catch brought in by Rhode Island anglers who use eco-friendly methods.

The company that connects the fishermen with consumers is none other than Gabe the Fish Babe, which partners with Toole and his girlfriend, Anya Pozdeeva, in the CSF.

Toole wore a black beanie hat Wednesday emblazoned with Gabe’s mermaid logo, along with a black trench coat, sweater and pants — Toole calls this look the “ninja mermaid” — as he swept through the streets of Williamsburg handing the stickers to storeowners and passersby, and perhaps stamping a few here and there.

Because of his open court case, he won’t say whether he stuck any stickers on surfaces or poles other than the one for which he was arrested. But he will note that he is hardly the first person in Brooklyn to place a sticker on property not belonging to him.

“Walking through Williamsburg, you’d be forgiven for thinking those streets are a public bulletin board,” he said.

He had just about finished his guerilla marketing for the day and was about to meet Pozdeeva and their young son at a coffee shop, when he spotted a nice bit of blank real estate on a pole near Bedford Avenue and North 6th Street.

But no sooner had he smacked the black-and-white mermaid label on the pole than he locked eyes with a few burly men sitting in a sedan across the street — plainclothes cops.

Within minutes, he was handcuffed and charged with making graffiti and possession of graffiti instruments.

Police did not respond to a request for details about the arrest.

Soon, Toole was behind bars for the first time in his life, he said.

“I do not have any history of deviant behavior,” he insisted, “other than once being a banker.”

The slammer turned out to be not so bad, Toole said.

In a cell with about 15 other people, Toole learned which jails sport flat-screen TVs and how to smuggle in cigarettes — something a man called “Burnt Fingers” seemed to be an expert at, Toole said.

Several men said they were arrested for possession of marijuana. Toole offered them some homespun advice.

“I suggested they might get arrested less if they were smoking fish,” he said.

He was released from jail about 2 a.m. the next morning.

He will appear before a judge next month to ask that his community-service sentence be transferred to The Bronx, where he already gives his free urban farming classes.

He offers the workshops at The Point, a community center in Hunts Point, where he also raises the tilapia in trash bins and tanks and, last month, launched the CSF.

Members in the program — so far, there are about a dozen — pay $15 for enough porgy, whiting, squid or dogfish to feed five hungry piscivores, or $7 for a hearty two-person supply.

The CSF’s cut-rate prices are subsidized, in part, by Gabe the Fish Babe’s higher-end fish club, whose foodie members pay a premium for packaged and prepared seafood.

Gabrielle Stommel, owner of Gabe the Fish Babe, said she felt some initial pangs of guilt when she heard Toole had been picked up while promoting her service, but felt fine when she realized “he had a good time in jail.”

The Rhode Island company’s next promotion will be “pop-up parades” in the Manhattan and Brooklyn neighborhoods with fish club drop-off spots, Stommel said. These will feature mermaids, ninja mermaids, shopping carts, marching musicians and, of course, fliers and stickers.

“Hopefully,” Stommel added, “we won’t get arrested.”