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Several mass die-offs of bunker/menhaden were reported in Connecticut waters over Memorial Day weekend.
By CT DEEP  |  June 9, 2015

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is studying potential causes of multiple natural fish kills reported in coastal waters. The kills, which have been reported in several locations on the Thames River between Norwich and the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton, in the lower Connecticut River, in Clinton Harbor and on the Quinnipiac River involve hundreds to thousands of Atlantic menhaden at each location. Small numbers of fish kills of other species have also been reported in these areas.

Atlantic menhaden, a common schooling fish averaging about 10 to 14 inches in length, have been extremely abundant in southern New England and New York waters for the past two years. The recent increase in numbers is likely due to limits placed on menhaden harvest along the Atlantic coast by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission beginning in 2013 according to David Simpson, Director of the CT DEEP Marine Fisheries Division. Menhaden, which have become a valuable commercial catch to be processed into animal feed and other products or used as bait in lobster, crab and other fisheries, also provide important forage for larger fish species, sea birds and marine mammals.

Fish kills involving Atlantic menhaden are a common occurrence wherever the fish is found in abundance. “These events more commonly occur during the warmer summer months when bluefish attack tightly packed menhaden schools in locations where the oxygen content of the water is also below normal,” said Simpson. “The tightly packed schools rapidly use up the oxygen in the water and suffocate.”

Although the cause of these current fish kills is still under investigation, early season kills such as this one have previously been shown to result from the viral “whirling” disease which spreads rapidly through the school. In late stages of the disease, fish are commonly seen spinning or whirling at the surface. “This behavior has been described by witnesses in each of the fish kill locations,” added Simpson.

Anyone witnessing a fish kill in other coastal locations in the state is urged to contact the Marine Fisheries Division by telephone at 860-434-6043 or by email at deep.marine.fisheries@ct.gov.

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