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Shinnecock Bay bluefish die-off being studied

This bluefish caught in Shinnecock Bay was dissected

This bluefish caught in Shinnecock Bay was dissected to help determine the cause of a mass die off of bluefish off the Hamptons. (July 3, 2013) Credit: Handout

The Marine Animal Disease Laboratory at Stony Brook University is investigating an unusual bluefish die-off that was discovered last weekend in Shinnecock Bay.

Southampton Town trustee Ed Warner said the dead fish started showing up in small numbers on Sunday in the middle of the bay east of the Shinnecock Reservation. By Tuesday, trustees had removed 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of cocktail bluefish, each weighing 2 to 4 pounds.

"I'm really at a loss about what's going on," said Warner, 55, a bayman.

The dead fish were too decomposed to test, but a live one caught by Warner showed no obvious signs of disease, said Carmelo del Castillo, a lab research scientist. Preliminary test results are expected later this month.

The cause of the fish kill could be anything from algae blooms to bacteria, experts say.

"The very odd thing is it's bluefish only," said Christopher Gobler, a professor at Stony Brook's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. "It's hard to know what would cause that."

In most major fish kills a number of species are impacted. In this case mackerel, sand sharks and dogfish are found in the same waters, Warner said.

"I've never in my career heard of bluefish kills anywhere on Long Island," said Gobler, who draws on more than two decades of experience.

In 2008, dozens of bluefish from Raritan Bay washed onto the New Jersey coast. Authorities believed commercial fishermen had cast them out because two filleted bluefish were among the remains.

In New York, the commercial fishing limit for bluefish is 1,000 pounds per trip, and del Castillo wonders if the dead fish were discarded by someone who exceeded the limit.

Warner discounted that theory, noting that bluefish fetch 70 cents to $1 per pound.

Del Castillo said another rarity could be the culprit: venomous Portuguese man-of-wars. Dozens of the jellyfishlike creatures have washed up on East End beaches, the first sighting in many years, locals said.

If there are enough of the creatures, they could sting to death an entire school of bluefish, the researcher said.

Del Castillo would like to test a dead bluefish that's not decomposed.

If one is found, put it on ice, he said, and call the lab at 631-632-7477.

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