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Marine Life

DEC has received and responded to an increased number of reports of Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) dead or swimming irregularly throughout New York's marine waters, including the Hudson River and around Long Island.

To report observations of a fish kill, please send detailed location information and photos to fishkillmarine@dec.ny.gov. Reports can also be made by calling 631-444-0714 for marine waters or 845-256-3199 on the Hudson River.

The marine waters of New York offer valuable habitat to a wide-range of sea creatures, from large whales to microscopic plankton. Visit the links below to learn more about the diverse collection of species that are found year-round or seasonally through out New York's ocean and estuarine environments.

Reporting Marine Fish Kills

Mortality events, or fish kills, are not unusual for some marine fish species, and particularly for fish that swim in large schools. There are various naturally occurring causes that are typically responsible for these events which may include low dissolved oxygen, changing environmental conditions, and pathogens.

To report observations of a fish kill, please send detailed location information and photos to fishkillmarine@dec.ny.gov. Reports can also be made by calling 631-444-0714 for marine waters or 845-256-3199 on the Hudson River and provide the following detailed information:

  • Date and time of observation;
  • Location of observation, please provide specific water body and associated landmarks, if possible;
  • Number of fish observed;
  • Species of fish observed;
  • If unable to determine the species, please provide a photo or describe the size, color, and/or shape of the fish, if possible;
  • If fish are alive, provide details on their swimming behavior;
  • If fish are dead, provide details on their condition and external appearance.

DEC recommends treating fish kill events the same as you would with any dead, wild animal and avoid collecting or handling these fish. If you need to come in contact with dead fish to clean them up, make sure to wear appropriate protective equipment, including gloves.

Atlantic Menhaden Fish Kill 2020-2021

DEC and neighboring state agencies have been investigating, monitoring, and tracking an ongoing fish kill event for Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) since Fall of 2020.

Investigations of affected fish by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) found internal signs of disease associated with the presence of a Vibrio bacterium (link leaves DEC website) in most samples. DEC collected samples of fish found in New York and confirmed the presence of the same Vibrio species in the tissues of the fish. This bacterium is a possible cause of the mortality event. Vibrio bacteria are a naturally occurring bacteria in coastal waters that are typically present in elevated concentrations between May and October. The specific bacterium identified by the DEC and NJDEP is not typically known to be harmful to humans.

There have been no reports of other fish or wildlife species being impacted by the suspected bacterium causing this mortality event. Menhaden occupy estuaries and coastal waters from northern Florida to Nova Scotia and are an important prey species for a wide range of wildlife and are typically used by humans as bait. It is still safe to eat fish that prey on menhaden. As always, it is recommended that all fish and shellfish be cooked to the proper temperature and fish that are dead or appear sick should not be collected or eaten.

In Fall 2020, DEC initially sent samples of tissue from collected fish to Stony Brook University's Marine Animal Disease Laboratory and Cornell University to test for a viral infection often associated with the observed, irregular, swimming behavior. NJDEP also sent samples of menhaden to Pequest Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory, and samples of menhaden collected by both states tested negative for the virus.

Saltwater Fish of New York

Several saltwater fish species support both New York's renowned recreational fishing industry and economically significant commercial fisheries. Some of the largest and famed fish species found in the ocean are the diverse collection of sharks. Sharks are completely cartilaginous fish, which means they have no true-bones, compared to more familiar fish that have complete skeletons.

Learn more about the most commonly occurring fish species below:

striped bass illustration
Striped bass

Striped bass can be found along the Atlantic coast from Canada to Florida and can live up to 30 years. They are anadromous which means they migrate from saltwater into fresh water to spawn. They migrate north in the spring, and back south in the fall where they overwinter offshore. Striped bass can live up to 30 years and can be found on our artificial reefs searching for a meal.

Read more about Striped bass in the Hudson River.

Summer flounder (Fluke) are found from Nova Scotia to Florida and can live up to 14 years. They are bottom dwelling fish that camouflage themselves in the bottom and ambush unsuspecting prey. Fluke migrate inshore in the spring and offshore in the winter. They begin their lives with eyes on both sides of their body which migrate to the left side in about a month. They can live up to 14 years and can be found on the bottom in and around artificial reefs.

black sea bass illustration
Black sea bass

Black sea bass can be found on the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida and can live up to 20 years. In the northeast, they migrate inshore in the summer and offshore in the winter. As ocean temperatures have warmed, black sea bass populations have expanded northward. Black sea bass begin their lives as females and become males as they age. This transition usually occurs between 2-5 years old. Black sea bass can live up to 20 years. These fish are structure associated and are commonly found at rock bottoms near pilings, wrecks, and jetties. highly sought after on artificial reefs.

Winter flounder are found from Labrador to Georgia and can live over 15 years. They are bottom dwelling fish that eat copepods, amphipods, and polychaetes. Winter flounder migrate inshore to spawn in the winter and offshore in the spring. Like fluke, they begin their lives with eyes on both sides of their head and the left eye migrates to the right side of the body in a little over a month.

bluefish illustration
Bluefish

Bluefish can be found in temperate waters through much of the world. They are fast growers and can live up to 12 years. Bluefish migrate into New York waters in the spring and summer. They are voracious predators and are known for their sharp teeth which they use to make quick work of their prey. They can live up to 12 years, and migrate into New York waters in the spring and summer. Bluefish stop at artificial reefs to feed and are sought after for their fight and willingness to attack lures thrown their way.

Blackfish (Tautog) are found along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to Georgia. They are slow growing and can live up to 40 years. They migrate inshore during the spring and offshore as the water temperature drops through the fall. They have strong jaws and teeth which they use to chew up crabs, mussels, clams, and barnacles. Blackfish utilize structure as habitat and are commonly found around natural and artificial structures. Blackfish are one of the prized and commonly sought after species on our artificial reefs.

scup illustration
Scup (Porgy)

Scup (Porgy) are primarily found between Massachusetts and North Carolina. They are a schooling fish that can live up to 20 years. They migrate inshore during the spring and their abundance in an area is often influenced by water temperature. are found on artificial reefs feeding on benthic invertebrates. They are a popular sportfish that provide a good fight for their size.

Atlantic cod are a cold-water species that can be found from Greenland to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. They spawn in the winter and early spring and can live over 20 years. Cod are one of the most highly productive species, but are also sensitive to increasing ocean temperatures which has been linked to declining cod populations. Cod are seasonal visitors of artificial reefs and utilize reef structure for shelter and foraging.

American eel are the only freshwater eel found in North America. In the United States they are present from Maine to Florida. Eels spend most of their life in freshwater and migrate to the ocean to spawn and die. They have a multitude of life stages including: leptocephali, glass eel, yellow eel, and silver eel.

weakfish illustration
Weakfish

Weakfish are schooling fish found from Nova Scotia to Florida. They can live up to 17 years, but their natural and fishing mortality has been increasing in recent years. The name weakfish comes from their fragile mouth, which easily rips when hooked by fishermen. Weakfish are part of the drum family and often make a drumming or croaking sound using special muscles and their swim bladder.

Oyster toadfish are found in Maine to Florida and can live up to 12 years. They reside in inshore waters on rocky bottoms near reefs, jetties, and wrecks. Oyster toadfish are hardy fish that need little food to live and are well adapted to live in polluted water and among litter. When spawning they make a foghorn sound to attract mates.

Monkfish can be found from St. Lawrence to North Carolina and live up to 30 years. They prefer deeper waters and migrate seasonally to feed and spawn. Monkfish feed by using their modified spine on the top of their head as a fishing pole to lure prey towards its mouth. Once the prey is close enough, the monkfish takes a gulp of water which sucks the prey into its mouth where it is swallowed whole.

atlantic menhaden illustration
Atlantic menhaden (Bunker)

Atlantic menhaden (Bunker) can be found swimming in large schools along the Atlantic coast of the United States. Menhaden occupy estuaries and coastal waters from northern Florida to Nova Scotia and their population size is estimated to be multiple billions. In recent years, Northeast states have reported larger numbers of menhaden in local waters. Coastwide, hundreds of millions of fish are harvested by bait fisheries or reduction fisheries for the production of fish oil, fertilizer, and fishmeal. They are also an important prey species for many types of wildlife, including, striped bass, bluefish, sharks, sea birds, and marine mammals. They can live for up to 10-12 years, and the older and larger menhaden tend to migrate farther north than younger and smaller fish. Large schools of menhaden can be found near reefs, attracting a variety of predators to the area.

alewife illustration
Alewife

Alewife can be found from Labrador to South Carolina and they live up to 9 years. Alewife spend most of their life in the ocean, only returning to freshwater to spawn. They are an important prey item for many types of wildlife, including, fish, sea birds, and marine mammals. Some populations live entirely in freshwater or are landlocked in lakes where they have been introduced. Alewife populations have been in decline due to habitat degradation caused by dams and culverts. DEC has received and responded to an increased number of reports of Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) dead or swimming irregularly throughout New York's marine waters, including the Hudson River and around Long Island.


More about Marine Life:

  • Marine Invertebrates - Learn more about the different types of marine crabs, whelks and lobster found in New York's waters.
  • Marine Shellfish - Learn about the species of saltwater shellfish that New York State regulates.
  • Sharks - Information on common species of sharks found in New York's marine waters.
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  • Division of Marine Resources
    123 Kings Park Blvd.
    (Nissequogue River State Park)
    Kings Park, New York 11754
    631-444-0430
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