Fish Mystery At Old Mill

Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of dead fish washed up yesterday at Old Mill Beach and Compo Cove.

Health authorities and Harbor Watch are investigating.

(Photos/Tessa Smith McGovern)

37 responses to “Fish Mystery At Old Mill

  1. Wow, I was just there Sunday standing above the locks. I told my wife when I was 10 or 12 we’d catch snappers there. By the bucket full. Didn’t look like that.

  2. Looks like menhaden, aka bunker. Schools of blues and/or stripers will corral these fish and drive them up onto the shore to try to save themselves.

  3. Eva Lopez Reyman

    Wow!, Why?

  4. Let’s hope that Bill Rizzuto’s right and this isn’t scary evidence of today’s UN’s report on alarming ocean temperature warming.The unprecedented increase is killing and poisoning marine plant life. In turn, the marine food is going from source of life to source of death,

  5. Chip Stephens SHS 73

    Seriously newbies ? This is a natural reoccurring event that occurs almost every year in different local waterside areas.
    This time of the year the Blue Fish come to our shores to feed, Blues, as they are called, are voracious feeders with rather sharp teeth which rip through schools of smaller fish, minnows, bunker and baby blues. The carnage is wild to watch, just last week you could see off the bridge downtown the small er fish jumping as the Blues feasted through their groups. Now when these feed feasts occur, some times the large schools of fish run away and try to hide in shallower tributaries and coves, too many fish, too much oxygen is consumed and the water becomes “anaerobic” and you get mass fish kills (they suffocate). Some years it has occurred in Compo cove and some in Norwalk cove during the oyster festival or boat show, not a pleasant smell or scene but that’s Ma Nature at work.
    Not anything new, not man made, not anything that a seaside community should not be aware of.

  6. Sharon Paulsen

    Cumulative effect of our ever increasingly polluted waters perhaps?

    • Actually Sharon, water quality in the Long Island Sound has greatly improved over the years thanks to aggressive conservation efforts.

  7. Except other aquatic life is dead in there, too. I saw some crabs and a horseshoe crab dead out there yesterday (Dan I can forward a picture if you want to add to this). The day before there was no dead fish, etc. This was very sudden. It also happened in December 2017. Due to budgeting, no one could do any real testing or follow up.

  8. Bill’s not quite right – It is true that the Blues chase the bunker to the shore in an eating frenzy. There are so many fish in a small area that what kills them is the lack of oxygen in the water – they suffocate.

  9. Maybe it’s Red Tide? Southwestern Florida has this problem last year.

  10. betting Fall fertilized lawns

  11. Doesnt this happen every single year? Pretty sure its normal. Happens in other harbors in LI Sound.

  12. It’s a totally common/natural event in these parts.

  13. Muddy Brook which empties into Sherwood Mill Cove is one of eight waterways in Fairfield County tied for the highest level of E.Coli bacteria.
    Not sure if this maybe a factor.

  14. Chip, Bill. and Dave are all correct…
    Growing up in Westport, and spending a lot of time on the water, I’ve seen this in the 60’s 70′ and 80’s ( I haven’t been in these waters much since then). I remember a particularly big fish kill at the Long shore marina where we used to keep our boat.
    Blues chase thousands of Bunker into shallow waters and the oxygen is depleted…nothing new. I’ve ever seen whirlpools form from the fish swimming in circles…
    From The Norwalk Hour 2008 –
    “When the levels start to drop blue fish in sound chase the bait or bunker fish into the harbors and up to rivers, corralling them to locations where there is even less oxygen, making it nearly impossible for them to breathe through their gills”

  15. And then there’s the bunker poop factor:

    As my brother Bob states, we spent much of our youth on the water fishing with our Dad, and I can remember seeing large amounts of dead bunker in some bays and harbors a few times in the 1970s.

    My Dad explained it to me back then, and I recall Dick Alley writing a piece about it for one of his great “Alley’s Angles” columns for the Westport News.

    It may not have been as common in recent years because, for various reasons (mostly commercial trawlers) bunker populations declined for awhile. But thanks to various regulations bunker are making a strong comeback.

    In addition to be pushed into bays and harbors by bluefish and stripers, then dying from lack of oxygen (as others have pointed out), there can be other factors at times.

    Warmer water has less oxygen and can also promote algae blooms that sap more oxygen from the water. Pollution can also promote more oxygen-depleting algae from increased nitrogen and phosphates.

    But those factors generally come into play in spring and early summer. Still, it never hurts to have biologists and water-quality specialists check things out.

    But considering the time of year, I suspect these bunker were pushed into the shallows by bluefish and died from depleted oxygen, as several people already mentioned.

    It’s a great time of year to be fishing.

    Here’s something I learned today from the interesting, informative article I posted below: The first recorded bunker kill in the area was observed by a Dutch settler, Jasper Danckaerts, in a creek in Staten Island in 1679.

    And here’s something my Dad did not tell me: The role that bunker poop plays in all this.

    “When bunkers are frightened by predators and ball up into schools, they also defecate. This uses up any remaining oxygen in the water, and they suffocate.”

    Read More:

  16. Ellen C Greenberg

    There is an oyster farm in the Mill Pond. At a minimum the town tests the waters as well as the farm. Some one is tracking the health of the Mill Pond.

    • The town conducts water testing of mill pond? Pretty sure that would be under the State of CT Agriculture department.

  17. Raymond F Skidgell

    Mr. Stalling. I am in awe. What are you not an expert on?

  18. Raymond Skidgell

    Mr. Stalling. I am in awe.What are you not an expert on?

    • Ray, that would be far too long a list to post. As my brother Bob mentioned, my education, knowledge and experience has mostly focused on fish and wildlife biology, wildlife and wildlands conservation, environmental issues, natural history and wilderness protection. I’ve also worked on gay rights and equality issues. Years ago, I excelled at military reconnaissance, small-unit infantry tactics, demolitions, hand-to-hand combat, bar-fighting head-butting and excessive consumption of alcohol. Fortunately, those days are over and I try to keep focused on my research, writing, photography and advocacy. Thanks for asking. Nothing to be in awe about. As Will Rogers once said, “We’re all ignorant, just on different topics.”

    • PS: For the record, I do not consider myself an expert on bunker poop; I am only beginning to dive into that.

  19. Hi Ray,
    I can tell you this about Dave…
    Having served as the conservation editor for The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bugle Magazine, the Western Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited, a two term past President of The Montana Wildlife Federation and as the Global Warming Outreach Coordinator for The National Wildlife Federation, he knows a few things when it comes to wildlife and the environment. That would include fishing and hunting along the shores of Long Island Sound…
    But his real expertise is with Elk and Grizzlies.
    You’re Welcome.

    • Ray,
      I forgot to mention…If you ever need information on what it’s like being the team leader of a Force Recon Unit with the mission of rescuing a downed pilot in Libya, or perhaps some information on what it’s like to dig through the deep snow in the Bitterroot Wilderness of Montana and then climb into a Bears den to collect hair samples,,,, Dave can help you out.
      Hope that helps.

  20. No oxygen in the water, open gates, flush, high temps dead water life, same as last year…seen herbicides sprayed this week also…………

    • What an amazing collection of interesting, knowledgeable and experienced people we have in our little town of Westport.
      Grateful for all your thoughts and comments👍🏼

  21. Bonnie Bradley

    Thanks for the in-depth information, Dave and Bob. I can remember these bunker and snapper blues events from my childhood. I’d fish for the snapper blues from the dock at the old “Compo basin” and my grandmother Bradley would cook them up for us. This was in the early ‘50s, when I was 11 or 12.
    Washed ashore dead horseshoe crabs were very common then too.

    Last week I was at Hammonasset State Park in Madison on a calm morning, wading near shore, when a large flock of sea gulls appeared from nowhere, about 100 yards in front of me, and went into a frenzy of feeding on what was obviously a school of bunker or snappers. Quite a sight, taking me back to my childhood. It’s just a normal act of nature, impressive to see.
    The “beaching” of bait fish was common then too.

  22. FWIW, Conservation had reached out to HarborWatch to look into this.

  23. Historically, that happens when there’s a lack of oxygen in the water, usually from pollution.

  24. Bonnie Bradley

    Further to the subject of this discussion: there is an interesting and alarming report on the current condition and the future of our oceans, which appears on the front page of today’s New York Times. Read it and weep.

  25. Bonnie Bradley

    Sorry, I should add, there is more, in depth, on page A9 of the paper.
    “Warming Poses Grave Danger to Oceans, U.N. Report Says.”

  26. The death of, I believe, thousands of tiny fish and of hundreds of large fish occurred shortly after the tidal gates were opened for a drainage or oyster beds purpose. I have communicated with Town officials and have been advised that the matter has been brought to their attention. I have asked Town officials to issue a statement or statements.
    Don Bergmann