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For Release: Friday, May 20, 2016

State DEC and Local Agencies Collaborate to Mitigate Impact of Potential Fish Kill in Peconic River

Commercial fishermen will help agencies manage menhaden population

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Town of Riverhead are partnering together to mitigate the impact of a potential large-scale fish kill in the Peconic River, DEC Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos announced today.

"DEC continues to work with all partners to identify strategies that will improve water quality in the Peconic River and limit the potential impact of a large-scale fish kill," Acting Commissioner Seggos said. "Increasing the menhaden harvest is one way we can help combat this issue. We will be vigilant this coming summer to monitor the situation as conditions for fish kills become more prevalent."

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) recently approved the DEC's request to allow commercial fishermen to catch more menhaden, also commonly referred to as bunker, in order to reduce the number that might otherwise perish during a die-off. Local commercial fishermen are working together with DEC and the Town of Riverhead to harvest as many fish from the river as possible in the coming weeks.

The removal of these additional fish is being done to 1) improve chance of survival of the remaining fish; 2) use the fish caught beneficially as bait instead of having to dispose of carcasses on the shoreline; 3) eliminate or reduce the magnitude of a fish kill.

The Peconic River is Long Island's longest river and has a history of fish kills over the years, including in 1999, 2000, 2007 and 2009, often resulting in more than 1 million dead fish. The area also exhibits poor water quality with increased nitrogen levels which can exacerbate the magnitude of the fish kills.

Most recently, during the spring and early summer of 2015, DEC estimated roughly 300,000 adult Atlantic menhaden died and washed up along the shores of the Peconic River in Riverhead. Menhaden are an important forage fish for species such as striped bass, bluefish, sea birds and other marine mammals.

But predatory fish, such as bluefish, can herd large quantities of menhaden into small water bodies such as the Peconic River, where the concentration of fish results in oxygen depletion and eventual asphyxiation. This occurs more frequently during warmer months.

Currently, DEC is seeing a larger number of menhaden in the Peconic River than is typical for this time of year. A recent overflight by New York State Police with DEC staff revealed huge numbers of menhaden in the Peconic Bay system. The ASMFC has allowed New York to harvest an additional 1 million pounds of menhaden in the Peconic River as part of their episodic event program. To date, New York's commercial fisherman have harvested over 300,000 lbs of menhaden from the river, but there are still far greater numbers remaining than expected.

The DEC, Town of Riverhead, and commercial fishermen are combining efforts to continuously monitor the menhaden population in the Peconic River. Though necessary efforts have been made to reduce the population size, there is still an unusually large number of fish in the river so the potential risk that a fish kill could occur remains high for 2016. DEC staff along with the Town of Riverhead and Suffolk County are monitoring the conditions in the river daily and are prepared to respond to a fish kill should one occur. DEC staff across Long Island are also prepared to assist in the event of a fish kill.

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