05/30/15 3:03pm
05/30/2015 3:03 PM
Dead bunker like these have been washing up on local shores since late last week. (Credit: Christopher Gobler)

Dead bunker like these have been washing up on local shores since late last week. (Credit: Christopher Gobler)

A recent die-off of bait fish in the Peconic Estuary has Riverhead Town rallying local fishermen to harvest as many bunker as they can before the fish die, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

“It’s a critical situation,” Mr. Walter said. “We’re having a real problem.”

The die-off has been blamed on low oxygen levels in nearby waters caused by a recent algae bloom, said Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University who’s been investigating the kill.

“This may be the biggest fish kill I’ve ever seen and I’ve been working for more than 20 years,” he told the News-Review.

  • How a fish kill unfolds: Scroll down to see

The kill comes 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.

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.

When a school of bunker swam into this “dead zone,” they suffocated and died, he said. There have been reports of thousands of the dead bunker washing up along town and private beaches.

“This is a pretty remarkable size fish kill,” Mr. Gobler noted. “There were fished piled on top of each other on the shoreline.”

Mr. Walter said that may pose a public safety hazard. While the town is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Mr. Walter said they’ll need to dispose of the dead fish somehow.

11330023_10204170173286525_3614910240458071008_nIdeally, the fish would be cleaned up and moved to the Brookhaven landfill, if the DEC allows that, he said. Otherwise, Mr. Walter said he may declare a town-wide state of emergency to clean up the fish and bury them at the town’s own waste facility.

“We’re ready to take action, we just don’t know what action we’re going to take,” Mr. Walter said. “The next 24 hours will tell.”

While the town waits for DEC approval, Mr. Walter said local boat captains have been contacted to round up bunker in the Peconic Estuary before they continue to die off.

Nate Phillips, a commercial fisherman from Greenport, is one of those boat captains. Normally, fishermen are only allowed to take a certain quota of bunker, which are used by lobstermen and other fishermen as bait. Mr. Phillips said those restrictions may be voided during this crisis.

“Obviously, the ultimate goal is to get it cleaned up before they all die,” he said. “When they die they’re a terrible, stinky mess.”

Mr. Phillips told the News-Review he was rounding up a group of fishermen — as many as five or six boats — to harvest the fish using haul seines, scoop nets, or “basically whatever we can get them with.”

The harvest could begin as early as Saturday night.

Dead fish that turned up near the Riverhead Yacht Club Friday afternoon. (Credit: Melanie Drozd)

Dead fish that turned up near the Riverhead Yacht Club Friday afternoon. (Credit: Melanie Drozd)

Mr. Gobler said fish kills are not unusual, but they’re not seen as often in other parts of Long Island where the bunker group together to spawn.

“There’s very few places on Long Island where oxygen levels are going to zero for multiple hours,” he said. “That’s not normal.”

Mr. Gobler said nitrogen runoff likely fed this specific algal bloom, nicknamed “mahogany tide.” Shallow creeks and tributaries of the river are especially vulnerable to algae blooms because the nitrogen gets concentrated in one area.

Historically, the Peconic Estuary has had relatively low oxygen levels to begin with, Mr. Gobler said. With these blooms moving in, the River will “probably have oxygen problems through the summer,” he said.

“It’s going to hit low and no oxygen levels throughout the summer,” he said. “But there may not be the equivalent fish kills because … the fish will sense the low oxygen levels and turn around.”

psquire@timesreview.com

What Causes a  Fish Kill- (3)

05/07/15 9:58am
05/07/2015 9:58 AM
Meetinghouse Creek on Thursday morning. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Meetinghouse Creek on Thursday morning. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

State Department of Environmental Conservation officials have closed two Riverhead water bodies to shellfishing after finding dangerous levels of marine biotoxins in shellfish and carnivorous gastropods, such as conchs and moon snails, which feed on shellfish. (more…)

05/01/15 8:00am
05/01/2015 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO  |  Southold trustee and bayman Jim King harvests oysters and clams in Mattituck Inlet last year.

Southold trustee and bayman Jim King harvests oysters and clams in Mattituck Inlet last year. (Barbaraellen Koch file photo)

The East End’s baymen — at least what’s left of them — are getting a hand from local governments, which are trying to open up shellfish beds that were designated as polluted by the state but could actually be quite clean.

Due to a state regulatory agency that’s strapped for time and money, a new agreement from the Suffolk County Legislature and the Peconic Estuary Protection Committee will set up standard practices for the county and East End towns to test their own water under the state’s strict guidelines. (more…)

03/30/15 2:59pm
03/30/2015 2:59 PM
Gary Joyce of Aquebogue (left) and Ed Densieski of Riverhead sort through a catch. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

Gary Joyce of Aquebogue (left) and Ed Densieski of Riverhead sort through a catch. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

There is a silver lining to the prolonged winter for local fishermen and seafood lovers: Bay scallop season has been extended an extra month to help area fishermen recoup losses contributed to the brutally cold weather.

(more…)

03/11/15 12:28pm
03/11/2015 12:28 PM
A mute swan mother with her cygnets in East Marion last year. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

A mute swan mother with her cygnets in East Marion last year. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

A newly revised state Department of Environmental Conservation plan to deal with mute swan populations in the state would focus on non-lethal management of their numbers on Long Island, only calling for lethal methods as a “last resort.”

That’s still too often for some, including state Senator Ken LaValle.  (more…)

11/17/14 10:00am
11/17/2014 10:00 AM
This shot was found shot with an arrow in July 2011 in Riverhead. It was treated and released back into the wild that September.

This swan was found shot with an arrow in Riverhead in July 2011. It was treated and released back into the wild that September. The person who shot it was never found.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has launched a new hotline for the public to report wildlife and environmental crimes.

The toll-free number is 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267). The 24-hour hotline connects callers to a DEC police dispatcher, according to a press release.

(more…)

10/23/14 8:00am
10/23/2014 8:00 AM
Waste water being aerated in one of the two 750,000-gallon treatment tanks at the Riverhead Sewer District plant. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Waste water being aerated in one of the two 750,000-gallon treatment tanks at the Riverhead Sewer District plant. (Credit: Paul Squire)

A $23.5 million upgrade to Riverhead’s sewer system — which was to have been completed last winter — could take at least two years longer than expected, and the town has applied for an extension of the project completion date from January 2014 to April 2016.

In the meantime, the town is seeking additional funds from the county to help pay for the cost of the upgrade. The town doesn’t have the money.  (more…)

08/31/14 8:00am
08/31/2014 8:00 AM
The airbase was established in 1946 and is currently used by a few area pilots. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

The airbase was established in 1946 and is currently used by a few area pilots. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed removing Mattituck Airbase from New York’s Superfund program, saying the property no longer poses a threat to public health or the environment, DEC officials said.

Before it makes a final determination, the DEC will accept public comment for the next month. The property is currently on the state’s Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site list, which identifies properties being investigated for potential hazardous waste and outlines any cleanup efforts taking place.

The airbase, located off New Suffolk Avenue in Mattituck, is one of 11 properties currently being investigated across Riverhead and Southold towns.

It was created in 1946, when Parker Wickham of Mattituck, who overhauled airplane engines during World War II, converted part of his family’s New Suffolk Avenue potato farm into a small airport and plane engine rebuilding shop under the name Mattituck Services, according to previous Suffolk Times coverage. The property is still owned by the Wickham family.

The site currently operates as an “informal airbase used by a few area pilots,” said Southold Supervisor Scott Russell.

The 12-acre site included a half-acre parcel where chemicals — including fuels, oils and cleaners — were once used for maintenance and repair work, according to state DEC officials.

According to the state agency’s listing, solvent rinses and wastewater used on the property were discharged to leaching pools in the area from 1946 to 1979, leaving elevated levels of copper, iron, nickel, zinc, lead and cadmium in nearby soils, as well as several pesticide ingredients.

To remedy the pollution, 25 tons of contaminated but non-hazardous soils were excavated from the area surrounding the leaching pools in 1997, with excavation extending at least three feet below the water table, the DEC listing states. The area was then packed with clean fill and closed.

Soil testing conducted in November 2013 found no lingering impact from the contaminants in question and it was determined that no public or environmental threats exist at the site, according to DEC officials.

Mr. Russell said he’s encouraged to hear that the historic site stands to be removed from the Superfund program.

“If the DEC is satisfied, naturally we are,” he said. “Certainly it is in the town’s interest to see all [of these areas] get remediated and delisted.”

Agency officials are asking that any public comments regarding Mattituck Airbase be mailed to Cynthia Whitfield, project manager, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Environmental Remediation, Remedial Bureau A, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-7015 or emailed to cynthia.whitfield@dec.ny.gov. You can also call 518-402-9564.

The comment period will close Oct. 5 and a final decision will be made on or after Oct. 26, according to the DEC release.

cmiller@timesreview.com