As of Sept. 11, a new wave of additional fish kill had been reported, many in Leeds Pond, Hempstead Harbor Beach, Tappen Beach, Sea Cliff and some private homes on the lower part of Manhasset Bay, according to TONH Ombudsman Michael Miller and many callers to the Port News.
Marine Resource Specialist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Byron Young, told the Port News that the latest fish kill looks like a continuation of the one recently reported. That fish kill was explained, in part, as a natural phenomenon that occurs in late summer.
According to a release that details the phenomenon, from the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, the silvery, foot-long Atlantic menhaden, commonly known as bunkers, that are dying are frequently found in harbors and bays around the sound, and active schools of these fish can be seen on surface waters. These plankton-eating fish are a favorite meal for bluefish and are most commonly used by anglers as bait fish for the larger game fish. Often, bluefish will force the menhaden into shallows or areas of low dissolved oxygen, sending the menhaden into a frenzy of activity, using up whatever little oxygen is in the water, and hastening their demise.
A shoreline study from the first fish kill report showed that the dead bunkers had nips taken out them, indicating that they had been pursued.
However, the most recent reports have Mr. Young "concerned." He reports that his department is looking at dissolved oxygen levels and taking samples of the dead fish and sending them to pathologists at the state to check for viruses or bacteria. He notes that this fish kill is different because it seems to be centered in only Manhasset and Hempstead right now.
He also reported that for the past few weeks the oxygen levels in the water have been below level three. (The ideal levels are in the 5-7 range.) "If they fall below three it starts to cause stress for the fish," he noted.
These levels can be related to weather conditions that we've experienced lately: "very warm, still, calm conditions," said Mr. Young.
Expanding on Mr. Young's remarks, the release from the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor states that "Historically, low dissolved oxygen levels, or hypoxia, are a common occurrence in western Long Island Sound, where the mixing and aeration in both surface and deep waters is reduced during periods of hot, still weather."
However in this particular case, Mr. Young says, "We don't really have a smoking gun. For now, it's speculation, supposition. We can just eliminate the possibilities." Concluding, he said, "It sure is puzzling."
As far as cleaning up the unsightly and foul-smelling dead fish, the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor advises that the decomposing fish are part of the nutrient cycle of the sound, providing food for shorebirds, other fish, and crabs. They add that the natural decomposition of the fish could take up to another two weeks, but local municipalities have begun cleanup efforts.
Asked about whether the dead horseshoe crabs on shore had any connection to the bunker fish kill, he replied, "No. The juvenile horseshoe crabs have molted and are merely shedding their shells."