Bunker Die-Off Fouls Lagoons on Osborn Island
The local consensus is the recent baitfish kill in three lagoons on Osborn Island in Little Egg Harbor Township was due to extremely high water temperatures and low oxygen as too many small “peanut bunker,” or juvenile menhaden, swarmed in the confined areas, chased there by predators.
Louisiana Road resident John Thomas said his first thought on rising Saturday morning and looking out his window to his lagoon was that there were leaves or petals floating in the water. On closer inspection he realized they were thousands of dead baitfish called peanut bunker.
“As the day progressed on Saturday and then on Sunday, the smell was terrible. It’s awful. Nobody is going outside,” he said on Monday.
Being a local fisherman he surmised what had happened, “The bluefish chased them in here on high tide and when the tide went out they were landlocked. There is barely 6 inches of water in the lagoon. The temperature of the water in the lagoon was in the 90s and with little water from the bay flushing it out, it’s almost stagnant.”
Thomas said the mouths of the three lagoons affected with the fishkill are silted in and are high and dry during low tides. This condition has been a rallying point for the Residents of Osborn Island Association that has been fighting to get their lagoons dredged for years.
A recent grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation that would help with the dredging has been held up for more testing and will not start until next year.
“The shame of it is if they had done the dredging, this probably wouldn’t have happened,” said Thomas.
Earl Sutton, director of the Little Egg Harbor Municipal Utilities Authority, said his office received a call from the Public Works Department asking for help in cleaning up some of the fish that had accumulated in the ends of three lagoons: Louisiana, Maryland and Kentucky.
“I guess you could say we came to the rescue,” said Sutton on Tuesday. “Sunday afternoon we got a phone call from the DPW to assist them so our Superintendent Mike DiFrancia went down there with our jet truck.”
The jet truck is designed to unblock sewage pipes and clean out stormwater basins. This time it was used to suck up dead fish. “It has hoses that work under pressure. It’s like a Shop-Vac.”
Unfortunately, until they knew where they could dispose of the fish, they stayed in the vacuum truck overnight, said Sutton.
“On Sunday DiFrancia was dressed in hip boots and again was down at the lagoons cleaning up,” said Sutton.
“We had the board of health come down, and the DEP (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection) met with us about the proper disposal of the fish. We were hoping the (Ocean County) landfill would take them and on Monday they said they would. We unloaded the fish into a 10-yard Dumpster at public works and they took it to the dump site. The landfill dug a big hole to bury them. We wanted to get them out of town as quickly as possible,” said Sutton.
“Unfortunately, until this weather changes and we get cooler temperatures and some rain, conditions won’t change much,” he added. Sutton also recommended that people don’t swim in the lagoons. “We’ll have someone test the water, but it’s not something that’s done regularly.
“I’ve heard this year has been a record year for peanut bunker. There was too many of them for the sea gulls to eat.”
— Pat Johnson