Riverhead, Southampton to split costs for bunker removal

05/27/2016 4:30 AM |

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There is peace again in bunker-ville.

After Riverhead Town officials publicly criticized neighboring Southampton Town last week for not agreeing to contribute to the cost of removing bunker fish from the Peconic River, so as to lessen the chance of another fish kill, the Southampton Town Board on Tuesday agreed to do so.

The two towns will now each contribute 1 cent per pound of bunker fish removed and the state Department of Environmental Conservation will contribute 2 cents per pound. Previously, Riverhead had planned to contribute 2 cents if Southampton didn’t participate.

The 4 cents per pound is meant to supplement what commercial fishermen can make, which at this time of year is only about 10 cents per pound, which fishermen have said isn’t worth it.

The idea of hauling bunker, also known as menhaden, out of the Peconic River is to avoid another fish kill like the one in 2015. Scientists have said high number of bunker and low dissolved oxygen levels in the water contribute to the fish kill.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the commercial fishermen hired to remove bunker from the Peconic have removed more than 400,000 pounds of fish over the past three weeks.

Riverhead officials had accused Southampton of not agreeing to contribute to the bunker removal during a discussion last week on whether Riverhead should partner with Southampton in applying for a $10 million downtown grant from the state.

Southampton Councilman John Bouvier said on Wednesday that the Town Board simply wanted to get answers to some questions before agreeing to contribute to the bunker removal. Among the questions were whether doing so would guarantee there wouldn’t be a fish kill, whether local fishermen are benefitting from the program and whether salt water marshes would be damaged by the nets. The answers to those questions were that the DEC couldn’t guarantee there wouldn’t be a fish kill, but that local fishermen were being used and there was no environmental damage from the nets.

The fish that are caught are packaged in Aquebogue and trucked either to Maine, Virginia or to local companies, according to Will Caldwell, who runs one of the fishing boats.

Southampton and Riverhead will now spend up to $7,500 each to remove the bunker.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved a request to remove up to 1 million pounds of menhaden from the Peconic River area in an effort to prevent a fish kill.

Mr. Walter said his only concern is that the town may actually reach the $7,500 cap.

Photo Caption: Willie Cauldwell brings in a net of bunker last week in the Peconic River near Cromwell Street. (Credit: Barbarallen Koch)

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