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Late Summer Fish Kills A Natural Part Of The Ecosystem, Experts Say

ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Dead and smelly fish have washed up in several locations in New Jersey.

Last week thousands of fish had to be vacuumed from the shore line after they washed up dead. Major fish kills have since taken place in two different areas.

As CBS2's Meg Baker, the white specks floating in the Atlantic Highlands Marina on Monday were small fish -- killed off by the lack of oxygen in the water.

Captain Tom Smith with the Atlantic Star has worked the docks since 1975. He's seen fish kills before, but never like this.

"Not this bad, this was a big one. Seen small ones in the past. This is the biggest one," Captain Smith said.

Others said they smelled it before they saw it.

"Water was completely covered. At first I thought it was packing peanuts," David McNeill said.

Not packing peanuts, but peanut bunker -- chased into the marina by their predator blue fish, the fish panic and swim into small condensed areas.

"Unfortunately, they suffocate and die because of low dissolved oxygen. They need to breathe just like humans," NJ/NY Baykeeper Sandra Meola explained.

More than 200,000 dead bunker fish washed up dead in Keansburg and the Atlantic Highlands. Further south in Little Egg Harbor ten to twelve thousand dead fish were found in man made lagoons.

Meola said fish kills are normal for this time of year, but the size was exceptional.

"Never have we seen one this large, and with so many fish in so many parts of the bay shore area," she said.

Baykeepers said they weren't surprised to hear about more dead fish in other areas where the water temperature continues to rise.

The excessive heat and other factors contributed to the lack of oxygen in the water.

"They can be exacerbated by pollution that we cause, fertilizers on laws washed off storm drains, too many organic materials in there sucking up oxygen," Meola said.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said it's a natural part of the ecosystem. Big fish eat little fish, and now smaller ocean creatures will survivie off of the nutrients from the dead bunker -- the circle of life.


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