Thousands of fish die in Delaware Bay

    New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection has collected water and tissue samples to determine the cause of the die-off.

    Tens of thousands of fish washed ashore in Cape May County, dead. State and local teams are trying to figure out what killed them.

    New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection gave the OK to county and municipal responders to begin cleaning up the miles of dead fish lining the shores of Middle and Lower Townships.

    The state has collected tissue and water samples to begin the forensics of what happened to these menhaden. They are a small bait fish, also called bunker. Larry Hajna, a DEP spokesman, explains the prevailing hypothesis.

    Hajna: Large schools of fish, perhaps driven by predators, massed close to shallows along the shoreline or in the creeks and rapidly depleted the available supply of dissolved oxygen.

    Without oxygen, the fish can’t breathe. Darkness and heat can also reduce oxygen levels.

    Hajna: Die-offs do occur from low oxygen conditions and have occurred in the past. This one is unusually large.

    Hajna says no one is sure yet what the long term ecological impact of this die off will be.

    Hajna: This is a type of fish that is really a foundation, a building block for the food chain in the Delaware Bay and really along the Atlantic coastline. At this point it would be premature to speculate as to whether or not this die off will have longer term implications for the bay.

    Delaware’s environmental department says it has no reports of a die off on its side of the Bay.

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