EAST AMWELL, NJ - Owners of ponds can do their part to combat the threat of Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases with free fish that will be given away at the Hunterdon County 4-H and Agricultural Fair.

Personnel from the Office of Mosquito Control Coordination in the state Department of Environmental Protection plan to be at the fair Friday between 1 and 6 p.m. to distribute mosquito-eating minnows for people to put in standing water on their property that cannot be drained, such as ornamental ponds. The fish eat the insects that carry dangerous diseases such as West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and, although very unlikely in New Jersey, the Zika virus.

“This first ‘Adopt a Minnow’ program is intended as another way to show the coordinated efforts of our state mosquito control experts and their counterparts across the state at the local and county levels,” said Deputy DEP Commissioner David Glass. “We wish to reinforce that every resident has a role to play in reducing the mosquito population throughout the state, whether it is through adopting a minnow or removing standing water from your property.”

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“Hunterdon County has always been diligent in maintaining mosquito control programs,” said Freeholder John King, who praised staff at the county Division of Health “for their fine work on confronting mosquito-borne illnesses. The county is continuing our close cooperation with the DEP and taking specific action to protect the public against the Zika virus.”

Participants in the "Adopt A Minnow” event will have to review a short checklist on the proper use of the fish in standing water in such places as ornamental ponds and bird baths and then agree to place them in areas on their property only to best help combat mosquitoes.

They also will be provided a list of the best ways to avoid being bitten this season by following the 3D’s of mosquito control: Drain the standing water from your property (almost any amount is too much), Dress with long sleeves and pants to cover skin, and Defend by use of repellents. The little fish are raised at the Charles O. Hayford State Hatchery in Hackettstown.

Earlier this year, the state raised and stocked more than 150,000 fish that eat mosquito larvae – with another 400,000 fish more expected over the rest of the summer. It purchased four distribution tanks to assist in the transport of mosquito-eating fish throughout the state as well as five holding tanks to temporarily hold the fish to assist in counties that are distributing them.

According to David Chanda, Division of Fish & Wildlife director, the fish “help control the mosquito population by eating their young and preventing them from growing, biting and most importantly, reproducing.” Five breeds of mosquito-eating fish are bred at Hackettstown for mosquito control: the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas), the freshwater killifish (Fundulus diaphanus), the pumpkinseed sunfish(Lepomis gibbosus), the bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) and the Gambusia affinis, also known as the mosquitofish, for biological control.

“We are ramping up mosquitofish production as an extra measure of safety for this year to address not only the possible threat of Zika, but to combat the real and annual threats posed by other virus-carrying mosquitoes in our state,” said hatchery Superintendent Craig Lemon.

For more on mosquito control in New Jersey, go to the DEP website and for more on the fair, go to HunterdonCountyFair.com.