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Long Island Fishermen Trying To Prevent Repeat Of Last Year's Massive Fish Die-Off

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- There is a new plan on Long Island to prevent a repeat of last year's massive fish die-off.

CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported it involves bunker – a species of fish used for bait – that are being captured alive in Riverhead as East End fishermen are looking to avoid another Peconic River fish kill.

"We are over half-a-million pounds," Lenny Nilson of L&L Wholesale Bait said. "In three weeks we are seeing a difference."

Nilson is using small seine netting as Will Caldwell and his team are using a 300-foot nylon net rigged to a system Caldwell invented just for this purpose.

"We are trying out best here. I am losing sleep over it because I don't want to be wrong about this," Caldwell of Hampton Bays said. "I think it is definitely working. Just keep up hope the bluefish don't come in great herds."

This time last year the river, bay and marinas chocked with dead bunkers, which became a biological and tourism nightmare.

The bunkers were chased into shallow warm water with depleted oxygen and algae blooms.

Boaters Donna and Bob Banfelder said the smell last year was horrific and that they couldn't even barbecue because of it.

This year the Department of Environmental Conservation teamed up with the town to subsidize the fishing and increase quotas.

"If this wasn't happening we would have had one major fish kill already," Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said.

That is because just measured oxygen is toxic for the mass numbers.

All local bait shops and wholesalers have their fill of the fish.

Most of what they catch is going up to Maine live-salted or chummed for lobster bait or crab bait.

"We can take a big school of fish and pick off the 10,000 we want to harvest for the day and let the rest go," Caldwell said.

There are four weeks left in the bunker fish season to save the river and bay.

The fishermen are making 8 cents a pound for the baitfish thanks to a Department of Environmental Conservation grant and subsidy from the town.

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