06/15/15 1:53pm
06/15/2015 1:53 PM
Dead fish washed ashore at the Riverhead Yacht Club. (Courtesy photo)

Dead fish washed ashore at the Riverhead Yacht Club. (Courtesy photo)

Word of thousands of dead fish washing up on local shores might seem like old news at this point, but another drop in oxygen levels in local waters, coupled with a migration of bunker up the Peconic River resulted in yet another, separate fish kill over the weekend. (more…)

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

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…)

04/06/15 8:00am
04/06/2015 8:00 AM
The Riverhead Town sewer plant off Riverside Drive. (Credit: Paul Squire file photo)

The Riverhead Town sewer plant discharges into Peconic Bay (Credit: Paul Squire file photo)

Several million dollars in the state’s newly passed $142 billion budget has been allocated to fund water quality initiatives across New York State, including two projects on Long Island.

Here is a breakdown of water quality initiatives supported in the 2015-16 state spending plan:

NITROGEN MITIGATION

What’s going on?

The state budget includes $5 million in funding to create The Long Island Nitrogen Mitigation Plan, a comprehensive strategy for mitigating nitrogen pollution in Suffolk and Nassau county waterways.

Why is it needed? (more…)

02/27/15 9:59am
02/27/2015 9:59 AM

Words such as “crisis” and “urgent” often lose their currency when public officials spend them as freely as sailors on sprees.

But credit Shelter Island Supervisor Jim Dougherty — chairman of the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association — for pursuing an end to a fully realized crisis confronting the region’s future in the form of polluted groundwater and the waters that surround us(more…)

02/11/15 2:00pm
02/11/2015 2:00 PM
Experts say native plants like these New England asters are preferred for rain gardens. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

Experts say native plants like these New England asters are preferred for rain gardens. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

A unique program that allowed for a small number of homeowners in Southold and Southampton towns to earn a rebate of up to $500 for installing rain gardens, rain barrels or other forms of “conservation landscaping” on their properties has been expanded to include a portion of Riverhead and other areas.  (more…)

01/05/15 2:15pm
01/05/2015 2:15 PM
The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

It’s a project that’s been talked about since the 1980s, planned for since 2004, and is anticipated to actually happen something in 2016.

Soon, treated effluent from the Riverhead Sewer Plant will be re-used to irrigate the adjacent Indian Island Golf Course, which is owned by Suffolk County.  (more…)