RED BANK, NJ: The pandemic is starting to subside, the parks are open, and you’re finally able to get outside for some fresh air and exercise, so you walk to Riverside Gardens or Marine Park.

It’s a beautiful view; the mansions of Middletown, power and sailboats cruising by and the abundance of wildlife that calls the water their home.

And, if it's low tide, it hits your olfactory senses like a Mack truck – that dead fish smell which instantly makes you wince, furrows your brow and just cringe.

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What and why are dead fish are lining the shores of the Navesink, Shrewsbury and tributary rivers?

The fish are called Menhaden, also known as mossbunker or bunker, and are a species of the herring family.  It’s one of the most important fish in the Atlantic that we don’t eat; it’s bony and oily.   

Their main purpose is to filter and consume plankton and function as prey for a number of notable Chesapeake Bay predators.  The bunker serves an important ecological role providing commercial value through their use as bait, fishmeal and fish oil.

So, what’s causing them to wash up and die on our shores?

Predatory fish such as bluefish, stripers and dolphins “chase large schools of bait fish into estuarine creeks,” said DEP spokesman Larry Hajna.  “These huge schools of bait fish deplete oxygen in these shallower waters, particularly when the tide recedes, causing large die-offs.”

Another factor may be environmental.  “Although fecal coliform levels have been decreasing, you may have noticed that there is an algal bloom in the Navesink River.  This organism is non-toxic but when extremely high levels are reached it can deplete the dissolved oxygen in the water and therefore lead to fish kills,” said Brian Rice, chairman of the Navesink River Municipalities Committee and licensed boat captain

Predator or prey, part of the circle of wildlife.

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