Bunker fish lined the bay shores of Southold Town Sunday morning, days after the latest massive fish kill reports in Riverhead and Southampton towns.
Town officials and a local biologist investigating recent die-offs said they weren’t certain if the dead fish made their way out from Riverhead or if it points to a more localized issue in Southold Town.
Fish could be counted by the dozens on beaches at the end of Camp Mineola and Marratooka roads in Mattituck and at New Suffolk Beach Sunday. Hundreds of fish could be seen lining the shoreline at Nassau Point in Cutchogue.
• How a fish kill unfolds: Scroll down to see
Southold Town Trustee Dave Bergen said he had received reports of dead bunker inside James Creek in Mattituck, but that they had floated away by Sunday morning. He said he did find some fish kill nearby around Strong’s Marina and was also told there were dead fish in West Creek.
“Most of the fish were badly decomposed so it was hard to tell anything, but my best guess is that they died from lack of oxygen,” he said. “There could be other contributing factors which impact this, which can only be determined with scientific testing.”
On Saturday, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter called the fish die-off in the Peconic Estuary a “critical situation.”
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Sunday that there had not yet been serious enough reports in his town but officials are “in the process of lining up private contractors to be available in case we have an event in Southold and need to act quickly.”
Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University, said he hasn’t monitored the situation in Southold and didn’t want to speculate where in the bay fish washing to shore there might have died. He blamed the recent die-offs in neighboring towns on low oxygen levels in nearby waters caused by a recent algae bloom.
Mr. Gobler said oxygen levels in the Peconic Estuaries began dropping Wednesday night as the algae became more dense. By Friday, readings from the County Road 105 bridge showed zero oxygen in the water for the fish to breathe.
He said that while some have been quick to blame the incidents on natural circumstances, that’s only partly true.
“There are some parts of it that are natural and other parts that are not natural,” he said, adding that testing in the middle of last week showed a spike in nitrogen levels in parts of the Peconic Estuary. Shallow creeks and tributaries of the Peconic River are especially vulnerable to algae blooms because the nitrogen gets concentrated in one area, he said.
The kills come weeks after a separate massive die-off of diamondback terrapin turtles, which has also been linked to toxic shellfish likely caused by the algae — also known as red or brown tide.