Thousands of dead fish arrive in New York’s Hamptons canal

FILE PHOTO. © Hoang Dinh Nam
Authorities are trying to figure out why tens of thousands of dead fish were found floating in a canal on New York’s Long Island.

Residents couldn’t believe what they were seeing, or smelling, Monday morning when a massive die-off of bunker fish ended up packed into the Hampton Bays canal in Long Island.

“They’re all dead up on the beach, in the water, behind the building,” Ken Reney told WCBS.

Another resident at first thought the unusual sight “was frost in the morning.”

The fish were in the Shinnecock Canal in the morning, but once the locks were opened, out they went into the bay.

Regional Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Bill Fonda told Newsday the fish kills happen when a large number of fish get trapped in a confined area and the oxygen levels go down, leading to suffocation.

Fonda said the die-off was most likely caused by lack of oxygen and not chemicals or pollutants. Officials said they are taking water samples to confirm the theory.

Local experts think they have the answer.

“There was a big school of blue fish in the bay earlier on Sunday,” Stony Brook Southampton Marine Science Center manager Chris Paparo told WCBS. “Blue fish eat bunker and they chase the bunker into the canal like this and the locks are closed, fish can’t escape, and when they get pushed in they deplete the oxygen.”

A spokeswoman for the state’s Environmental Conservation Department told CBS News that the town of Southampton is cleaning up the fish and that no additional kills had been reported.

“They’ll use them for lobster bait, crab bait, fishing bait, so for them, a couple of them were saying it was Christmas,” Paparo said.

NBC News reported earlier this year that hundreds of thousands of fish floated to the water in a similar die-off in New Jersey's Raritan Bay. In that instance, officials said that the fish were likely chased into the bay by bluefish or skates. Once there, they were killed off by low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water.