The Fish Story

Bad Duck Days in Stafford Lagoons; The Bay Like Never Before

By JAY MANN | Aug 08, 2017

DEAD DUCKS AND ISLAND ROLLOVER: Geological forces are bad asses. In the whole-ball-of-wax picture, the Third Rock from the Sun is pretty much at the utter mercy of how the world turns, geologically speaking.

While the day will never come when mere mankind can conveniently patch up the San Andreas Fault, or scare tsunamis back into the ocean, right here on LBI we’re displaying what might be called geo-defiance. We’re trying to stave off inexorable planetary forces. Here’s how.

Barrier islands, like ours truly, are at the mercy of a muscularly incontestable ocean, which power-pushes the sandy islands westward. It’s euphemistically said the islands are migrating. In reality, they’re being overwhelmingly rolled toward the mainland. Such rollovers have been going on for uncountable eons.

As if the planet enjoys pushing around barrier islands, no sooner is one muscled toward the mainland than mountains of readily available, ocean bottom sand are pressed into service to build a brand new one. LBI might represent a repeatable, multi-generational barrier island – at least in theory.

Once driven westward, a banished barrier island tends to break up, either becoming mainland material or morphing into sedge islands, huddled within the bay that forms between a newly formed barrier island and the mainland.

Keeping all this in mind, it’s time to show how LBI is locking horns with the planet, via us.

Coastal humanity has built what amounts to a migration defense system. This makes sense, since we really prefer not to be strong-armed westward – to become mainlanders … or sedge-hoppers.

At the heart of our defense are bayside bulkheads, by the mile-load.

While bulkheading is ostensibly done to stave off the crash and crush of bayside waters, it coincidentally prevents LBI from being trundled westward. This obviously flies in the face of the planet’s island-pushing fun.

For the bulkheaded moment, we’re winning the war of wills. However, it’s easy to hear the planet yawningly say, “I got plenty of time, dude.” And it does.

Our winning this early round in the island rollover game could have hitherto unknown consequences … and soon. My guess is the bay might already be hitheringto. Because even science has no precedents to pin down what might come next, theories abound about Barnegat Bay’s days-to-come.

I’ll theorize that a bulkheaded bayside is on the brink of going perilously static, taking on a look and feel like never before.

Decades back, I began noticing a worsening bayside eutrophication process, whereby its tidally sluggish waters have begun filling up, bottom to top, with vegetative matter. Worsening matters is an insidious diminishing of tidal water flow at the south end of the Island, most noticeably off Holgate, extending into Little Egg Inlet.

Which highly roundaboutly leads me to the recent die-off of ducks in Stafford Township.

Necropsies on dead birds collected from within and near Beach Haven West lagoons have shown the birds died of botulism poisoning, which was the initial suspicion of experts.

Contributing factors to the poison’s sudden surfacing include recent flooding rains, extreme lack of water movement within the lagoon system and a buildup of algae and plant matter in not only the lagoons but also all of Barnegat Bay.

By the by, a thanks goes out to Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora, an avid outdoorsman himself, for helping move things quickly as lagoon-inhabiting birds started coming up DOA.

Also, Stafford Councilwoman Sharon McKenna is currently advising Beach Haven West residents to report any dead or dying birds to the animal control office. “If anyone in town sees a sick or dead duck, please call animal control ASAP. They are containing this situation, as members of the public let them know about these birds. The longer a dead bird stays in the drink, the more likely other animals will pick at it and be infected. Very gross and very true. So - call animal control at 609-597-1000!”

SICKENING STUFF: Now onward to some should-know stuff, as botulism poisonings might become more and more common within the bay.

Avian botulism poisoning is the prime cause of sudden bird die-offs in summer. The bacterial culprit is called Clostridium botulinum. The toxins from C. botulinum can accumulate under anaerobic (low- to no-oxygen) conditions within decomposing vegetation, like that now on the bay bottom – in abundance. Hot weather and warm water expedites the vegetative decay, offering perfect conditions for botulism bacteria to go wild.

A study presented by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, offers a theory: “In wetlands, it has been found that some C. botulinum strains can associate with toxin-unaffected organisms – including algae, plants, and invertebrates – in which the bacteria appear to germinate and stay in the vegetative form for longer periods of time.”

The study also suggests, “Pollution supports mass production of algae, followed by decay …”

That pollution angle offers a smoking gun moment in the case of BHW’s water troubles. There has likely never been so much algae within those lagoons, the result of a human-based oversupply of nutrients, such as fertilizers and petroleum byproducts. Once in the marine environment, these become forms of water pollution. Such abnormal nutrification and overgrowth of algae by mankind is now appropriately called cultural eutrophication.

Cultural eutrophication is at its problematic peak when the overgrowth of algae and sub-aquatic vegetation goes belly-up – and sinks to the bottom. The thicker the bottom layer of dead organic material, the greater the chance of C. botulinum finding ideal, O2-free conditions. Again, that could lead to more and more botulism cases rearing up.

Another troubling effect from eutrophication is the bay becoming ever more shallow, as seems to be happening. Shallowing means the bay holds less and less water, leading to more frequent overflows – what we know as frickin’ flooding. Right now, I’ll bet the barn that increased LBI and mainland bayside flooding is due far more to bay eutrophication than sea level rise.

Spookiness issued, I never bring up doomsday scenarios without some outs.

It might sound questionably convenient on my part, but I see huge tidal-flow benefits by enhancing the water depth on the south end of the Island. This can begin with channel dredging, including a Little Egg Inlet channel and the dredge deepening of the Intracoastal Waterway.

It can be confidently surmised that the future of Barnegat Bay is all about tidal flow. While mariners aren’t having much luck at getting a channel dredged in Little Egg Inlet (see below), if it comes down to LBI’s survival being at stake – if bayside waters aren’t kept flowing freely – the people-pressure to open things up in the inlet and bay could reach a boiling (mad) point.

In lagoon areas, now common along much of Barnegat Bay, electric hydraulic systems have been shown to keep water moving, at least enough to reduce bacteria growth. The perfecting of such a pumping system is already in the offing. I can envision such pumping devices becoming mandatory for lagoon communities during summer months.

Obviously, the ongoing effort to greatly reduce the amount of nutrients running off into the bay is mandatory, literally. The law prohibits evil over-fertilizing.

LEI UPDATE: Here’s yet another non-useful update on the proposed Little Egg Inlet channel-build: If anything, the prospects of a dredging project are moving closer and closer toward Goingnowhereville.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to adamantly demand proof that “No Impact” shall come from the dredging of an LEI channel. That can’t be guaranteed, per experts, who know that any such inlet action is a roll of the dice when it comes to trickledown effects. LEI is one of the most dynamic waterways on the Eastern Seaboard. It heavily impacts the likes of the nearby Forsythe Refuge even when left to its own devices.

I do want to clarify something because it involves buddies of mine at the Army Corps of Engineers. The ACE folks are absolutely not a stumbling block in the permitting process to build a channel, though they’ve been written up as such. They are fine with the project, even as we speak.

I’ll now be a Negative Nelson, whatever that is, by suggesting there’s not a prayer of Little Egg Inlet offering safe, deep, well-marked channel waters, even by the summer of 2018. I’d love to be proven wrong.

RUNDOWN: Thanks to those folks getting me word of what is now a mighty fine showing of small snapper blues in and around Barnegat Inlet. I’m also getting word of these tiny fighters showing at many bayside fishing piers and street ends, both LBI and mainland.

A fun way to get snappers snapping is by casting out small, freshwater spinners or metals, using light to ultralight freshwater gear.

The most kid-fun method of snappering remains bait and bobber. It does help to use thin metal line in and around bite points.

Important: Treat kept snapper blues like you would any fresh fish – maybe more so, when it comes to keeping them cold. For some reason, there’s a tradition of just throwing snappers on the ground, into a dry bucket, or, maybe worst, into a water-filled bucket, where bloody, sun-heated water unadvisedly cooks the very thin fish. Let’s show some overall respect to these tasty critters.

While this super showing of year-old snappers is ideal news for panfishermen, it’s also big news for flukers. Repeating what I’m told, smaller snapper blues are arguably the Number One bait for larger fluke.

By the by, live snappers can be fished off a jighead –  just mouth-hook the snapper. It’s best to not combine a lively live offering with larger plastics, which takes away the bait’s swimming action. Seems that fluke often prefer primarily white jigs, i.e. white bucktails or plastics.

Jigheads also work great with a dead snapper offering, when bounced off the bottom.

Fluking remains outstanding, based on Rotten Tomatoes-like percentages, which utilized opinions of professional flukers – captains of headboats and charters – and those of us in the fluke-fishing hoi polloi. Right now, I’ll estimate that 85 percent of pros give Fluking 2017 a high-star rating. Recreationalists are offering an 80-percent approval rating. Either way, fluking is a hit.

Of course, I still field – and feel compelled to publish – emails like this: Jay, I don’t know where you’re getting all this great fluking reports. I’ve yet to catch my first keeper this summer …”

That email wasn’t as angry as that small excerpt sounds. The fluke-foiled fellow is simply one of those fishing folks who zigs when the day clearly requires zagging. I know the syndrome oh so well. He is also hampered by an insane work schedule. Rushing out and demanding instant fish gratification, within a tight timeframe, is the kiss of angling death. I did rag him about baiting up with spearing stored in formaldehyde. While that chemical hardening of tender silversides has been done for decades, modern flukers are far more inclined to go with sexier bait presentations, including larger GULP, showy jigs, and, most recently, snapper blues as bait. Yes, good old minnies and squid combos still work wonderfully. I’m just seeing more trophy flatties going for larger, complex designer offerings.

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