Officials Investigate Fish Kill in Shark River

By Lauren Wanko

“It looks like a fish kill of biblical portions. There’s a carpet of dead fish on the bottom of the floor here,” said Shark River Hills resident Michael Manning.

Tens of thousands of dead menhaden, also called bunker, line Shark River, shocking locals.

“I don’t want to go in the water. I have paddle boards and kayaks and I don’t even want bring them down here to go in the water,” said resident Richard Horner.

But it’s not shocking to Monmouth University’s John Tiedemann who says the fish kill is due to low oxygen levels in the water.

“We’ve had a lot of rain which brings a lot of runoff into the water and then the microscopic algae respond to that and grow in huge numbers. They call that plankton bloom,” Tiedemann said.

The plankton’s short-lived. So after a few days it dies and bacteria breaks down the dead matter.

“That sucks oxygen out of the water so a couple of hot days with a plankton bloom, oxygen levels get so low that it stresses the organisms and this particular fish — that menhaden or bunker — is very susceptible,” said Tiedemann.

The Department of Environmental Protection tells NJTV News low oxygen levels is the likely cause of the bunker fish kill. Although the agency has not confirmed that is the definite cause just yet, state and county officials are analyzing the water and fish for any disease. Helicopters today circled the waterways and shoreline for other fish kill sightings. Tiedemann says bunker fish kills have happened this time of year along New Jersey’s coast.

“In my 30 some years in this field I’ve seen this probably half a dozen times,” Tiedemann said.

In Neptune Township, a small beach is covered in dead fish. In Belmar, the Public Works Department scoops up the dead bunker.

“There are so many fish that the Belmar Department of Public Works are simply taking nets and picking them up out of the water 10, 20 at a time,” said Mayor Matt Doherty.

Nearby fishermen are doing the same thing except the fish they net aren’t headed to the landfill.

“We’ve been scooping some up to put in freezers for bait instead of letting them rot and go to waste and rot away,” said XTC Captain Scott Kulaszewski.

These fisherman say bunker is the most popular bait fish. It’s used to lure in everything from sharks to stripped bass and it typically costs anywhere from $1 to $3 a piece.

“There’s free bait right now,” said boat mate for The Ocean Explorer Clint Travers.

“The eyes are nice and clean, they’re nice and hard and fresh, they’re tough and hard prime bait,” said Joe Zaleski, deck boss on Nan Sea J.

This bait may entice the fish, but maybe not the customers who board fishing boats.

“Get rid of them. It’s going to get stinky, it’s going to get real stinky,” said Travers.

Officials say their public works crews will most likely spend all day tomorrow removing the dead fish on Shark River.