By Lauren Wanko
“This is horrible, oh so bad smell. It’s a really, really nasty smell,” said Wall Township resident Terri Morrow.
Countless dead bunker continue to line the shores of Shark River.
“It’s kinda like living in a fish market,” said Rich Horner of Shark River Hills.
“Maybe a bad fish market,” added Joyce Amadruto.
As far the Neptune Township Public Works crew has collected and disposed of nearly 3.5 tons of the dead fish. That’s not including today’s work.
“It’s a monumental task. We’re doing the best we can, but it’s like removing water out of a pool with an eyedropper,” Rode said.
Which is why inmates from the Monmouth County Correctional Institution are helping a number of towns clean up the dead fish through Sheriff Shaun Golden’s Inmate Labor Program.
“We have a few teams of inmates that go around the county and assist in cleaning up parks, cleaning up beaches. They’re used to the work. It’s a great way for the inmates to give back to the communities,” Golden said.
A Department of Environmental Protection Spokesperson tells NJTV News the fish kill is a natural occurrence. A huge amount of bunker came in from the Atlantic Ocean into Shark River, especially into the shallow estuary portion. They outstripped the oxygen supply. Water testing indicates no sign of a chemical imbalance or algae bloom, although the DEP says there’s no sign of disease. The pathologist is still getting test results back. While the agency can’t give an exact number, officials suspect tens of thousands of bunker perished.
“There’s so many fish in the water, it’s like looking at the stars in the sky at night,” Rode said.
Members of the Shark River Beach & Yacht Club are literally surrounded by the floating, dead bunker. The club is responsible for cleaning up the fish in their marina and they wonder how they’ll do it.
“This is a little too much for a few members to pick up fish,” said club member Bill Geschke.
The biggest issue at this point is as soon as the beach is clean, the wind and tide wash thousands more fish onto the shore. The Neptune Township Department of Public Works plans to work through the weekend and local officials hope volunteer organizations will join the cleanup efforts.
“We have cleaned this beach four or five times at least. As clean as it is right now, at high tide you won’t even know we’re here,” Rode said.
“As fast as they clean it up, it seems they’re back,” said Rich Horner.
“Primarily the DEP has made a determination this is a local issue. However we made a request to the DEP through the county Office of Emergency Management for a boat they use that will assist us in trying to get the fish from the top of the water before they hit the shorelines. It’s a weed harvesting boat they use in the lakes generally,” said Neptune Township Emergency Management Coordinator Michael Bascom.
Neptune Township officials are hopeful they’ll get the weed harvest boat tomorrow. Meantime, inmates and crews will continue to scoop up the bunker along the shores.