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A Possible Cause for a Fish Die-Off in Connecticut

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Since May, thousands to tens of thousands of menhaden fish have died in Connecticut.

Biologists think they have identified a possible cause for a massive fish-die off that's resulted in thousands of fish washing ashore in Connecticut. 

The fish dying off are called "Atlantic Menhaden." David Simpson is with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. He said since May, thousands to tens of thousands of menhaden fish have died in Connecticut.

"The Quinnipiac River is a common site for events. Lower Connecticut River, we've seen some mortalities. Clinton Harbor. Westbrook. Guilford and the Thames River from top to bottom," Simpson said.

As more reports come in, Simpson said scientists now think the likely cause is a viral "spinning" disease. It's not transmissible to humans, but does cause some odd behavior in fish.

"Across all these areas that we've had reports, the observation is fish at the surface doing this spinning, whirling, twirling behavior that's out of the ordinary for a traditional 'menhaden kill,'" Simpson said. "Which usually occurs in the summertime. It's a sudden mass event, usually brought on by predators cornering them. Essentially packing the school so tight that they deplete the oxygen in the local water and [the menhaden] perish in a matter of minutes."

Menhaden is a common forage fish that Simpson said supports the largest fishery on the Atlantic Coast. Hundreds of millions of pounds are harvested each year.

He said there isn't much worry the spinning virus will damage animals that prey on menhaden -- like ospreys. 

At this point, Simpson added, he doesn't expect the die-offs seen in Connecticut to have a bigger ecological impact. "There's a lot of dead fish, but there's an awful lot of biomass," he said. "I'd look at this more as a dent in the population than anything really to cause concern."


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