Jun 2, 2009

baltimore fish kill: could it happen in Jamaica Bay?

Over the weekend, I was in Baltimore, Maryland, for a wedding. When I arrived down there on Saturday, several friends who had arrived early for the rehearsal dinner aboard a boat the night before told me that there were dead fish all over the harbor thanks to an algae bloom that presumably caused oxygen levels in the water to drop dramatically. The algae, Prorocentrum minimum, usually is present in the harbor around this time of year. But this time, levels were higher than usual.

If you spent even a little time outside of your car, you'd know it was true. The stench of the harbor water blew through all the nearby streets. Frankly, it didn't smell like dead fish, but rather smelled like stagnant water or maybe even the Gowanus Canal on a bad day. Walking around near the hotel and in the Fells Point neighborhood, I can say that the smell ranged from tolerable and even fishing-boat-esque at times to downright nasty at others. Get anywhere near the water's edge and you'll see them - dead Menhaden floating all over. In just a short walk, I probably saw about a hundred. I took one look and thought that they were all small bluefish, but an article said otherwise and that makes sense because none of the fish was any bigger than about 14 inches. According to the article, thousands upon thousands of the fish littered the harbor, and city cleanup crews would work to skim the water and remove the dead fish.

Could you imagine if that happened in New York? Or if the water even smelled half as bad around Manhattan? Fells Point is surrounded by condos and renters. In New York, some developer would find a way to perfume the air or install emergency air pumps.

Yesterday, I made it out on Jamaica Bay for a prime-time afternoon of fishing. High tide was at 4:45, and I got out about 2 to try my luck with four poles. At various times, large schools of bunker being chased by blues broke through the water's surface, about a hundred and fifty feet from the wall, but too far out of reach for even the strongest of casts. My dad came down and brought the dog, and I tried clams, bunker and even bunker oil for the first time, to no avail.

All I got was a mud crab and a horseshoe crab.

On the way back, it was ironic. I ran into my neighbor, an avid angler, and he said that earlier in the week all of the bait that he'd reel in came back covered in a black, oily sludge as if something had been dumped in the bay. He said he was alarmed, and added that while the substance looked and felt like oil, it had a muddy smell like...well... the bottom of the bay. He blamed the mess for stopping the bass run.

Disturbing. But yesterday, even though most all of my bait was coming back still on the line, at least everything seemed clean.

Next fishing day is Friday, with a high tide just after 7 in the evening.

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