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Dec 2, 2016 4:43 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village And Town Still Dealing With Cleanup Of Decaying Bunker From Fish Kill

Decaying bunker fish line the shores of the Shinnecock Bay from Munns Point to the Shinnecock Inlet in Southampton Village. BY GREG WEHNER
Dec 12, 2016 9:37 AM

Costly cleanup efforts following a massive fish kill that took place in mid-November focused on the removal of dead fish along the shores of Shinnecock Bay—but the marshlands are proving to be a challenge.

Southampton Town Board members on Monday approved a resolution that would contribute additional funds to the ongoing cleanup effort. The proposal allocated up to $10,000 to clean up the tons of decaying fish that have washed up along the shores of Shinnecock Bay after the fish kill on November 21. Huge numbers of bunker, or menhaden, had been chased into the Shinnecock Canal area by predator fish and suffocated.

The resolution noted that the fish need to be removed, calling the fish kill “an unforeseen condition or occurrence that may threaten the curtailment of the town’s inhabitants and/or potentially present health or safety hazards.” In fact, Suffolk County Health Department officials issued an advisory on Friday warning those who recreate or work in or near Shinnecock Bay to use common sense when they come across the dead fish. The advisory warned residents not to eat or even handle the dead fish unless wearing rubber or plastic protective gloves or a plastic bag over the hands.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman noted last week that crews were cleaning up the fish from the town’s beaches and were taking them to the transfer station on Jackson Avenue in Hampton Bays, where they will be turned into compost for next season.

“There are a number of areas where dead bunker in that inlet have started to rise up,” he said at a work session on Thursday, December 1. “We collected 57,000 pounds off the beaches, which went to our facility at Jackson Avenue.”

He also said that the Village of Southampton ended up with quite a bit more fish along its shores, which will probably cost quite a bit more to clean up. Many of the fish washed up into the marshy areas just north of Meadow Lane, and the smell with the recent north wind has been a nuisance more than a health problem.

On Friday, Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said the State Department of Environmental Conservation has to give permission to allow for the cleanup of fish in the marshland. Much of the area in question goes from Munn Point to the Shinnecock Inlet. “The DEC won’t give a permit to go into the marshland,” he said.

Although he has had discussions with the Southampton Town Trustees and State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr., Mr. Epley said there is no plan in place that tells them how to manage a situation like this. He also said the real issue is in the marshland, which they can’t get to.

The mayor said the cost to remove the fish from the beaches has been “astronomical.” Currently, the village is paying Will Caldwell, a local commercial fisherman, $2,600 per day for the task. After pulling 12 tons of fish off the beaches on the first day, 15 tons the next, and more than 18 tons over the next two days, the magnitude has become clear, as it has barely begun to address the problem.

In total, over 342,000 pounds of dead fish have been removed from the shores of the Shinnecock Bay, according to a press release from Mr. Schneiderman’s office. “C. Well Fish, a local commercial bunker fishing company, was contracted by the town to assist with cleanup efforts on the beaches,” the press release said.

According to the release, “some of the dead bunker were harvested for bait for the Maine lobster industry.” Some were taken to a private composting facility as well as the town’s composting facility on Jackson Avenue. The town is allowing those who are cleaning up their own beaches the ability to bring the dead fish to the Jackson Avenue facility as well, at no cost.

The smell of the rotting fish carcasses was so bad that many people called the supervisor’s office to see when their areas would be cleaned up. “Most of the problem areas have been addressed,” Mr. Schneiderman said in the release. “The massive cleanup efforts and the natural occurrences of wind and tide are creating improving conditions.”

Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the DEC, said the department has been working with town officials since the fish kill occurred. The discussions included developing a plan for composting recovered fish, as well as DEC requirements to conduct fish removal under an emergency authorization permit. Under the permit, work would likely involve the placement of mats in tidal wetland areas to limit the impacts of heavy equipment use in these areas during the fish removal process.

“Efforts are going as good as expected in a very difficult situation,” Southampton Town Trustee Scott Horowitz said on Friday. “It becomes very difficult, and in some areas almost impossible, to remediate the fish, because they are in sensitive wetland areas and meadows, and we do not want to do any harm to those vital systems.” He added that the situation is dynamic, and areas that are cleaned may end up getting covered with fish again once a storm passes.

Ultimately, the village and town are not out of the woods, and will be dealing with this situation for quite some time. Mr. Epley said he is thankful that this happened now and not when the summer crowds were in Southampton.

“There’s no game plan now, other than to let nature take its toll,” he said.

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Jay shucked his job and waited for the locks to open and spread to all the beaches. The town should bear the burden of the clean up.
If jay did his job, the fish would have been cleaned up in the small area of the locks...
Pass the buck. Mark get in gear and bill the town...
By knitter (1717), Southampton on Dec 2, 16 6:39 PM
The locks are maintained by the county. DO you know what time of night it was that the lock tender called and asked Mr. Schneiderman permission to open the locks?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Dec 3, 16 1:35 PM
It is fitting that jay spend his holidays with dead fish.
By even flow (831), East Hampton on Dec 3, 16 8:39 AM
Seems like the town was the lead agency.
By knitter (1717), Southampton on Dec 5, 16 12:30 PM
I said in a recent post that the Town should put out a Town wide call to all gardners to come and get the best FREE fertilizer you will ever have!!!!!!!!!! All the old timers know about that OH I mean the locals the real locals!!!
By summertimegal (93), southampton on Dec 12, 16 5:00 PM
1 member liked this comment