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DEEP: Bridgeport fish kill natural, not man-made

July 31, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — What was at first suspected of being a man-made aquatic disaster that left innumerable dead fish floating on a section of Bridgeport’s shoreline has been attributed to nature.

Friday afternoon, city officials received an alarming alert from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection: Santa Energy was, allegedly, “drilling or pumping something” into Cedar Creek behind its Admiral Street complex, leaving “a massive amount of dead sea life along the waterside.”

The DEEP dispatched staff from its hazardous materials response team and the agency’s fisheries division to investigate the fish kill.

“What we discovered was that bluefish chased smaller fish into a cove and stream,” Chris Collibee, a DEEP spokesman, said Monday.

“They literally starve themselves of oxygen and then they die. And then you have the appearance of oil, which is the resulting of the decomposing fish that release fish oil,” Collibee said. “But since it happened near Santa, it’s, ‘Hold on, what’s happening...’”

Somebody should have called Peter Russell, Santa’s president.

“We’ve seen this every four or five years,” Russell said Monday, adding he was not personally aware of the initial concerns raised Friday to DEEP. “It wasn’t a surprise to us. Was this year a little more than some years I can remember? Yeah.”

The DEEP was actually told of the fish kill by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, but how the EPA first got involved was unclear.

Barrett Christie, director of animal husbandry at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, said this is the time of year for fish kills along the southwestern Connecticut shoreline because there is not enough oxygen in the warm, shallow waters to support cornered schools of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of smaller fish.

“The scale of them can be mind blowing — literally a river just choked with fish,” Christie said. And they appear to be spread out over great distances when currents push the floating bodies around the shoreline.

In this case fish could still be seen Monday floating from Cedar Creek to Black Rock Harbor.

Bluefish — so common in the area that Bridgeport until last year was home to a minor league baseball team of that name — and striped bass are typically the “apex predators” responsible for the kills, Christie said.

And their victims? In Friday’s case, bunker fish, also called pogy and menhaden.

There is, Christie and Russell agreed, a silver lining in that a large kill is actually a good sign of a cleaner Long Island Sound.

“It’s actually a very healthy sign,” Christie said. “Bunker were once very scarce.”

“It just proves the area is much healthier,” Russell said.

Collibee said no cleanup is planned.

So nature caused the kill and it will, eventually, take care of the evidence, too.

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