By Jano Tantongco
Approximately 10,000 bunker fish carcasses washed up on Mill Pond’s shore last week, prompting the Town of Huntington to push them back out into Centerport Harbor, officials said.
A.J. Carter, town spokesman, said officials were first notified of the fish kill on Aug. 25. An estimated 2,000 adult bunkers and 8,000 young, “peanut” bunkers were brought in by the high tide.
There’s a gate at Mill Pond, which is situated between Centershore and Prospect roads, that is used to let the tide in from Centerport Harbor, which is just north of the pond. The open gate allowed the fish to enter in for high tide, but they did not go back out as the tide rolled out, according to Carter.
“There were too many fish for the amount of water,” he added. “They died from lack of oxygen.”
The New York State Department of Environment Conservation suggested that high-pressure hoses be used to push the dead fish back out into the harbor, where they will sink and decompose, Carter said. The Centerport Fire Department responded the next day to do just that, according to Carter.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said on Wednesday that the fish kill is a result of a low dissolved oxygen problem, “and not something more insidious.”
“Honestly, it’s not shocking, given that the pond is so small, and the water levels fluctuate so immensely with the tide,” she said. “Once all those fish went into that pond, and the tide goes out, they get trapped … there’s no other ending other than they will die.”
Christopher Gobler, professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said that oxygen levels are at their annual minimum, a state reached in the late summer, particularly because of the heat coupled with shorter days.
“There’s a natural and unnatural part to all this,” he said Wednesday. “Moving forward, the unnatural component can be controlled and make this less likely to happen in the future.”
Gobler said the issue is a multi-faceted one. In the past, bunker fish populations were low, but, recently, an uptick in their numbers has led to more of these occurrences.
He added that the process of eutrophication can further impact oxygen levels. Eutrophication occurs when nutrients from the land end up in the water, causing blooms of phytoplankton. This is usually the result of pollution from added sewage or fertilizers to the local ecosystem.
When these organisms die, their decomposition consumes oxygen in the water, further exacerbating the problem, he said.
Gobler added that his lab has over 40 water monitoring stations, with one in nearby Huntington Harbor and another in Northport Harbor. These stations have found that oxygen levels are currently at or just above zero.
Gobler continued, “Bottom line, if you’re going to have low oxygen conditions, this is the time of the year.