Jun 27 2015

Holy mackerel! Monterey Harbor working to keep fish invasion from dying off

Monterey >> Beneath the still waters of the Monterey Harbor lurks a grave threat to the tranquility of the city’s picturesque waterfront.

Mackerel. Tons of them.

Oh, they may not look like much of a menace. And alive, they are no problem.

But dead, they can foul the water and air for days on end, a disaster the likes of which the harbor has not seen in 20 years. Right now, the only thing between a pleasant day at the wharf and walking around with clothespins on our noses are 15 high-powered aerators working overtime to pump enough oxygen into the water to keep the fish alive.

“They’re heavy-duty commercial machines,” said Harbormaster Steve Scheiblauer, who first noticed the invasion early this week. “In the 19 years or 18 years since we’ve put ‘em in, we’ve had at least a half a dozen very large schools of fish, mostly sardines, that have come in, and we feel they’ve kept them alive.”

Fish kills are a relatively common harbor phenomenon, occurring when enough fish swim into a harbor to use up all the oxygen. When they die, they sink. When they rise to the surface a few days later, they stink.

The long, narrow Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor has seen fish kills with relative frequency, including last year. To clear the mess takes a bucket brigade and volunteers with exceptional olfactory tolerance levels.

But Monterey’s harbor has not seen a problem since 1995, when sardines died off and yucked up the marina. In early 1997, the city spent about $100,000 to install the aerators.

“It was absolutely horrible,” Scheiblauer said, saying about 400 to 500 tons of fish were sent to a landfill.

On Wednesday night, part-time harbor employee A.J. Young dropped a camera into the water to see if he could find the fish. The video shows legions of them, packed gill to gill. A few sardines have also joined the mob.

Recent slack tides haven’t helped, but those are expected to change in the coming days. Scheiblauer said normal tides could signal the end of the siege.

“The tides will improve into more spring tides, real highs and real lows, and so that’ll help the oxygen in the water naturally,” he said.

mackerelWatch the video — MontereyHerald.com.

Read the original post: Monterey Herald

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