Shark River: A Place Where Fish Go to Die



Residents, politicians and biologists are all saying that if the recent fish kill in the Shark River, estimated at 500,000 fish, isn’t a wake-up call to dredge the river – then what is?

“Hopefully this fish kill will be a wakeup call that the river has to be dredged – soon. It’s way overdue,” Shark River Yacht Club Commodore Bill Geschke said over the weekend.

“The river eventually got the reputation for mud flats and now it has a reputation as a place where fish go to die. When, actually, the Shark River could be a real treasure,” said A. Bruce Pyle, a retired Chief of Fisheries for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, who lives in Wall.

In the early morning hours of Mon., May 12, hundreds of thousands of fish, including many menhaden, or bunker, were found floating dead in the Shark River. State biologists estimated the number of dead fish, which apparently died to oxygen depletion in the water, at about 500,000.

“There is no water in the river and there is no oxygen – and we can’t seem to get anything done here. Every time I think we are moving forward (with dredging), there’s just another obstacle,” Geschke said.

Gescke said his yacht club, at 360 S. Riverside Drive in Neptune, is putting up a new $2 million club house building after the original one was destroyed by Superstorn Sandy. But he said that if the club can’t rent out its 80 boat slips, then there will be no money to pay for the new clubhouse.

“The water is so shallow that in order to get your boat in or out of the marina, you have to sail one hour on either side of the high tide mark. There is no channel left anymore and the problem becomes worse and worse. Everybody seems to be trying to get a dredge project done but nothing happens. And, at this point, we are getting close to not being able to make our payments anymore,” he said.

Crews have been out cleaning up the dead fish (pictured above; Coaster photo) but Gescke said the “the smell is unbelievable” and the river is “becoming a mud hole.”

He said that plans by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers calls for dredging the inlet back to the railroad drawbridge in September.

“If they are that close to the rest of the river then why not tack on the rest of the river,” he said.

He said that he is contacting local legislators to see what can be done.

“If we could only work together, we could get this done. It’s a shame to lose such a great asset but the entire river is dying off. If we dredged then I think crabs and clams would come back to the river,” he said.

Neptune City Mayor Robert Brown, who is also a member of the yacht club, said that he is not a scientist but he believes dredging the river would be a big help putting oxygen back into the water.

“Dredging is so vital at this point, we don’t have crabs or other sea life in river and I am fine with ocean dumping of the spoils. That’s where they are putting the inlet spoils,” he said.

Brown, who is a partner in a sailboat, said he cannot sail unless it is very high tide.

“The channels are almost filling in completely in some areas. If people can’t use their boats it will affect businesses in the entire area,” he said.

“Our time is limited on this river and there is nobody doing anything. I think ocean dumping is a viable option. The spoils have already been tested and found free of contaminants and it’s probably mostly sand,” he said.

And biologist Pyle agrees and said dredging can only take place from October through December.

“I support the idea of ocean dumping but you need the cooperation of the federal EPA and the Army Corps to get it out into the ocean,” he said.

He said since the dredging can only occur in those three months, any dumping of spoils would have no adverse effects.

“Dredging would remove the nutrients to a large degree and deepen the water so at low tide there is more water in river than there is now. By the time recreation season comes around people will not even know it’s out there,” he said.

He said if people are worried about contamination in the Camp Evans area, then the spoils there should be tested again.

“But everything else in other parts of the river have been determined to be acceptable,” he said.

This is the first in a series of articles about Shark River.

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