Dead fish on the beach at Indian Island County Park on Sunday.
Photo: Denise Civiletti

Dead bunker continue to wash ashore on the beaches of Flanders Bay in Riverhead and are now appearing east of there, along Peconic Bay beaches in Southold.

The sheer volume of dead, rotting fish along the shores in Jamesport, Aquebogue and Riverhead is creating a stench. The beaches and nearby roads in Jamesport and Aquebogue reek with the smell of dead fish. In Riverhead, the stench is noticeable on the links of the Indian Island county golf course and nearly unbearable on the beach along the point at Indian Island County Park.

The beach at the end of Washington Avenue in South Jamesport Sunday afternoon was deserted. The smell of  dead fish hung in the air.  Photo: Denise Civiletti
The beach at the end of Washington Avenue in South Jamesport Sunday afternoon was deserted. The smell of dead fish hung in the air.
Photo: Denise Civiletti

The beach at the end of Washington Avenue in South Jamesport on this sunny Sunday afternoon was desolate but for one lone sunbather, Linda Reyer, who sat in a beach chair looking out over the tide line of dead bunker this afternoon, reading a book.

“It’s bad,” Reyer said. “I thought I’d just try to get used to the smell because I wanted some sunshine,” she said, shaking her head.

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Beach at Indian Island County Park on Sunday.
Photo: Denise Civiletti

No one ventured near the beach at Indian Island County Park, where the campground was filled with tents and campers but the beach was deserted but for a flock of gulls. The air was thick with the odor of dead, rotting fish.

“The county’s going to have to go in there with some kind of heavy equipment and get them off the beaches,” Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said this afternoon. “We can’t leave them there like that.”

Krupski said he would contact Suffolk Parks Commissioner Greg Dawson about it first thing Monday morning.

Meetinghouse Creek, the scene of a large bunker die-off in May 2009, looked clear at today’s first low tide.

 

Keith Davis of Riverhead fishing for bunker for use as shark bait off the downtown dock Sunday. "I thought there'd be a lot more," he said.  Photo: Denise Civiletti
Keith Davis of Riverhead fishing for bunker off the downtown dock Sunday. He uses it as shark bait. “I thought there’d be a lot more,” he said.
Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Peconic River in downtown Riverhead had dead bunker floating in it this morning and this afternoon, but not as many as yesterday.

Bunker, the colloquial name for menhaden, seasonally migrate into the Peconic Estuary and its tributaries to spawn, according to Dr. Christopher Gobler of the Long Island Coastal Conservation Research Alliance and a research professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Gobler has been studying the Peconic Estuary since 2003.

Gobler says a “massive mahogany tide” — the algae Prorocetrum — is blooming in the Peconic Estuary, in Flanders Bay in particular. The bloom began in early May, he said. Levels of Prorocentrum in water samples tested by researchers are “some of the highest we’ve seen in the region,” Gobler said.

“Prorocetrum is common in tributaries this time of year,” Gobler noted. He blames the algal bloom for “driving the oxygen levels down, which is leading to anoxia and the fish kill” being seen in Flanders Bay, he said.

“Dissolved oxygen levels dropped to zero for an extended period” Thursday night, Gobler said.

“The overgrowth of other types of algae can also lead to low oxygen,” he said.

Brown foam and a brown-colored scum floated near the shore at Indian Island. The substances are likely an accumulation of dead algae, which release phosphorous and other nutrients when they die and their cells break down, said Southold Trustees president John Bredemeyer, who was a Peconic Estuary researcher with the county health department's office of ecology for 25 years.  Photo: Denise Civiletti
Brown foam and a brown-colored scum floated near the shore at Indian Island. The substances are likely an accumulation of dead algae, which release phosphorous and other nutrients when they die and their cells break down, said Southold Trustees president John Bredemeyer, who was a Peconic Estuary researcher with the county health department’s office of ecology for 25 years.
Photo: Denise Civiletti

Algal blooms are promoted by excessive nitrogen loading, scientists say. The nitrogen comes from numerous sources, including stormwater runoff, sewage treatment plants and septic systems. It also comes from historical sources, such as duck farm sediment, said John Bredemeyer, Southold Trustee president, who worked for 25 years as a Peconic Estuary researcher in the county health department’s office of ecology.

“When I first heard of the bunker die-off, Prorocetrum was the first thing that came to mind,” Bredemeyer said.

“Typically blue fish predation pushes them into upper regions of creeks,” he said. In some cases, those areas are a natural repository of organic matters
and dissolved oxygen in the water is already borderline, he said. “Then you add a component to it like warm water temperatures at night when everybody’s respiring, a harmful algal bloom, and bluefish feeding at first light and you have hypoxia.”

The dead bunker in the bay could have died up in the river and been pushed out into the bay by strong winds and tides, Bredemeyer said.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.