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A vital part of the local grocery chain, Atlantic Menhaden washed ashore in 16th Street Park. Photos by Victor M. Rodriguez.

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A vital part of the local grocery chain, Atlantic Menhaden washed ashore in 16th Street Park. Photos by Victor M. Rodriguez.

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Hundreds of Atlantic menhaden, a species of fish belonging to the herring family, washed up dead on the western banks of the Bayonne. Menhaden, commonly known as Bunker, travels to schools in the Hackensack River and Newark Bay.

Bayonne’s information officer, Joe Ryan, said the city is well aware of Menhaden’s death. The dead fish have been reported in Bayonne along the Newark Bay coastline, including Rutkowski Park, Stephen Gregg Park, 16th Street Park, and Boatworks.

The Bayonne Office of Emergency Management has investigated the problem and reported the dead Menhaden to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), which is investigating the problem.

Ryan said the NJDEP found that death occurs naturally and occurs regularly in nature when there is a lack of oxygen in the water.

Low oxygen levels can sometimes cause the fish to suffocate when hunted by predators, as there is an increased need for oxygen when attempting to escape.

Vital for the food chain

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said so is alarming that hundreds of menhaden were washed up dead on the banks of Bayonne.

“Menhaden is a vital link in the food chain and acts as a food source for larger species like bluefish and striped bass, as well as marine mammals and birds like ospreys and bald eagles,” said Tittel.

Menhaden plays a key role in the food chain, creating a link between small primary producers like plankton and higher organisms like striped bass, bluefish and weak fish.

These fish live in shallow schools in estuaries and in coastal ocean waters from early spring to early winter.

Death from sewage?

“Whether or not they are being chased by predators, the cause of death is low oxygen levels,” Tittel said.

Tittel continued: “One of the biggest problems we face is the combined sewer overflow, where raw and partially treated sewage gets into our bays, reducing algal bloom and oxygen levels. What makes it worse is warmer water and more rain. “

The warmer and rainier it gets, the more combined sewage overflows and rainwater runoffs become a problem, according to Tittel, as the bay is flooded with sewage when it rains.

Death typically occurs in warmer weather. While the water is usually cold at this time of year, climate change has resulted in warmer water temperatures, which in turn contribute to lower oxygen levels.

The city is seeing more development resulting in more nutrient pollution from fertilizers, animals and septic tanks, Tittel said. And this pollution is detrimental to local ecosystems.

“The Hackensack River has gotten cleaner when it comes to industrial pollution, but there are still serious problems with CSOs and rainwater runoff,” Tittel said.

Government action required

Tittel said New Jersey needs to take real action when it comes to dealing with water pollution and climate change. He said the state needs to push important initiatives like rainwater management, addressing combined sewer overflows, or setting the maximum total daily exposure the pollution.

“You shouldn’t be using structural systems like wetland restoration, installing green roofs, and using rain gardens, either,” Tittel said. “The state must act now because the death of fish like Menhadens is affecting not only important marine species, but also commercial and recreational fishing in New Jersey.”

For the latest information on this and other stories, please visit www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at [email protected]