Questions and Mystery Surround Massive Shark River Fish Kill


coaster-news-200By DON STINE

What killed massive numbers of fish in the Shark River remains a mystery- and at least three separate theories are being put forward as to the cause of the massive fish kill over the weekend.

Tens of thousands of fish, most of them bunker or menhaden, were seen floating in the Shark River early Mon., May 12 and state and county officials stated they believe the fish died due to a lack of oxygen in the water.

But one well-known local fisherman and a retired state fisheries expert said they believe that theory is possibly wrong, with one saying the fish may have already been dead and subsequently washed into the river.

“I don’t think a lack of oxygen in the river should be a concern this time of year. There have been rain storms and the water is cool- so there is no reason for there to be a lack of oxygen,” said Joseph Pallotto, president of the Asbury Park Fishing Club- the oldest such club in the nation.

Pallotto, a retired beach director of Asbury Park, said he believes that the large amount of sand now in the river due to Superstorm Sandy may be a possible cause for the mass killing of fish instead.

“I believe the sand has something to do with it. That water is constantly moving in and out and that stirs up the sand- and there is a lot of sand there now and it gets into their gills and kills them,” he said.

Pallotto said some of his long-time fishing buddies also agree with this theory. And while they have seen large fish kills before, it usually occurs during hot weather and low water levels.

He said he urges both county and state officials to look into his theory.

“The sand just gets into their gills and they can’t breathe,” he said.

But A. Bruce Pyle, Wall, both agrees and disagrees with Pallotto and disagrees with county and state officials.

Pyle, a retired chief of Fisheries for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said he agrees with Pallotto that there is no good reason for there to be a lack of oxygen in the Shark River this time of the year but he disagrees that sand in their gills caused the massive fish kill.

“I don’t think that’s possible,” he said.

Pyle said he believes the fish, which were adults at eight to 10 inches, were probably already dead and dropped into the ocean near the Shark River Inlet by a fishing vessel carrying an illegal load.

“It would be extremely unusual for these types of fish to be in the river right now- they would be offshore. It’s true that menhaden use up oxygen but the Shark River is not that type of habitat. Plus there is no reason for them to be in the river this time of the year anyway,” he said.

“I can’t believe oxygen levels in the Shark River would be low, especially with the flushing in and out by the tides,” he said.

Pyle said there are many circumstances that need to be examined concerning the fish kill.

“But I think somebody off the coast had an illegal load of the fish and just dumped them outside the inlet and they came in on the tide. That’s my guess- that’s all it is,” he said.

A 4.4-foot high tide occurred at the Shark River Inlet at 6:23 a.m. on Monday morning, which would have allowed about six hours for the fish, discovered early Monday morning, to wash into the inlet and river.

Pyle said he believes that if the fish were caught inside the three-mile limit they would be illegal and that a purse-seiner might have dropped them.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has placed a limit of menhaden that can be caught during a year.

A small, oily fish, also called bunker, the Atlantic menhaden is rarely consumed by humans but for the Atlantic ecosystem, as well as commercial and recreational fishermen, it is an essential fish

The Monmouth County Health Department is currently testing water samples from the Shark River for dissolved oxygen levels and conducting temperature readings. The DEP is also conducting a chemical analysis.

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