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Nov 15, 2013 4:40 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Fish Die-Off In Mecox Bay, Cold May Be Culprit

Nov 20, 2013 8:30 AM

Hundreds of dead bluefish washed up on the shores of Mecox Bay last week, possibly felled by cold temperatures or low salinity levels in the coastal bay.

The bluefish, most between 12 and 15 inches in length and weighing about 2 pounds, were scattered along the shorelines of Burnett’s Cove at the western end of the bay and along much of the eastern shoreline on Friday morning. No other species of fish has been reported to have died.

Scientists from Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences collected some of the dead fish for testing and took water samples.

Dr. Christopher Gobler, a professor at SOMAS who leads much of the water quality research on the South Fork, said that he suspects the culprit to be the cold temperatures rather than salinity. Salinity levels in the bay were about 15 parts per thousand, compared to more than 31 in the ocean, but that should not have been low enough to kill the fish en masse, he said. More likely, the shallow bay’s cooling waters overstressed the fish.

“A shallow bay like Mecox is going to respond much quicker to temperatures and is probably at a temperature now that the ocean won’t get to until December or even February,” Dr. Gobler said. “We took some [of the fish] up to Stony Brook to the marine animal disease lab. They have a standard battery of tests they do. If there’s some other smoking gun, they’ll turn it up.”

Southampton Town Trustee Fred Havemeyer guessed that the cause could have been dropping salinity levels in the bay and the presence of a normally pelagic species like bluefish in the bay this late in the season. Either way, he said, they needed to be let out of the bay via a cut opened to the ocean.

“The bay has not been opened in some time,” Mr. Havemeyer said. “Species of pelagic fish swim in there when the bay is exchanging, and they grow like crazy because there is so much to eat in there. But normally the bay would have been opened twice since September by now, and they could’ve gotten out of there. The environmental conditions are changing.”

Trustee Bill Pell said that because of low rainfall in the last two months, the height of the bay and the salinity levels have still not reached the thresholds set by Mr. Havemeyer for cutting open the bay.

On Monday, contractors for the Trustees dug open the cut into the bay, but it closed after running for only a few hours. Contractors were due to attempt another opening of the cut on Wednesday morning.

Mr. Havemeyer managed the letting of Mecox Bay for the last decade but gave up the duty earlier this year because of what he has said was withering political pressure exerted by wealthy homeowners in the area regarding the frequency and timing of the cuts. He announced in May that he would not seek reelection to a sixth term on the Trustees.

He has been at odds in recent months with some other members of the Trustees, and consultants for homeowners who live on the fringes of the Trustees-owned beach at the south end of the bay, about when the bay should be opened.

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Culprit, not culprint. Lol turn your spell checker back on.
By khan (36), hampton bays on Nov 16, 13 1:55 AM
1 member liked this comment
Per Mr. Pell: "He said that the height of the bay and the salinity levels have still not reached the thresholds for cutting open the bay set by Mr. Havemeyer."

Are these the only thresholds for opening the cut?

What about other considerations, such as, that blue fish trapped in the bay will die if kept imprisoned for too long in their life cycle, without access to ocean water?
By PBR (4945), Southampton on Nov 16, 13 4:39 AM
So true. A 15 foot wall between the bay and the ocean was erected over two months ago I believe at the behest of bay front property owners wanting to keep their front yards dry. This is the result. I hope this incident is a wake-up call for the Trustees.

By danrudan (40), Southampton on Nov 16, 13 10:04 AM
1 member liked this comment
Mr. Havemeyer's decision -- not to seek reelection -- may be the best weather vane for optimism about the Trustees waking up to challenge The Big Money . . .

By PBR (4945), Southampton on Nov 16, 13 11:15 AM
1 member liked this comment
In contrast see new article about EHT Trustees getting a TRO to stop further Zweig revetments work. Well done!

By PBR (4945), Southampton on Nov 16, 13 11:21 AM
The Trustees opening the bay and subjecting the homeowners to the tidal influence of the Atlantic Ocean is something that could become a liability with sea level rise. This is not a naturally occurring breach, when man fiddles with nature, man is responsible for the results. The Trustees only own the lands underwater in Mecox Bay to average low water as per; Trustees, etc., of the Town of Southampton v. Mecox Bay Oyster Co., 116 N. Y. 1, 22 N. E. 387.
The more you know the real history, the ...more
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Nov 16, 13 9:23 PM
Historically, the cut was opened to alleviate flooding of the Mecox shoreline properties (and their basements) because the bay water, swollen with excess rain and field runoff, had no other place to go. Check the newspaper morgues/archives, which are replete with examples.

ICE's point is correct, of course, that an open cut will allow ultra-high tides to raise the level of Mecox, but only for select high tides.

Either way, there IS going to be flooding in Mecox. Damned if you do, ...more
By PBR (4945), Southampton on Nov 17, 13 7:03 AM
1 member liked this comment
PS re: din of inequity:

Groundwater also contributes to rising water levels in Mecox, a source which will not stop flowing in the future. Therefore, opening the cut would appear to be a necessity if basements are not to flood.

By PBR (4945), Southampton on Nov 17, 13 3:16 PM
Interesting updates to the article, especially the last few paragraphs.
By PBR (4945), Southampton on Nov 19, 13 7:36 PM
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