Nosy Neighbor: Why are there so many dead fish in the river?

K. wrote — and several folks have sent me pictures, one more gruesome than the next — asking why there are so many dead and dying fish floating in the river. They are in fact Atlantic Menhaden, aka bunker, and swim in huge schools around these parts. I spotted just one on Pier 25 last Tuesday; that must have been the beginning of the end because the reports started flowing in after that. “It’s so distressing to see them swimming around erratically like that,” she said.

This happened once before in July, when low oxygen levels due to a warming planet killed a bunch off then too. But the state Department of Environmental Conservation says that “die-off events” are not unusual for fish like this. Fish that swim in large schools are especially vulnerable to disruptions in their aquatic environment. I am not going to say it, but you know what I am thinking. It’s a bit much to take.

Still, the DEC has sent samples out to SUNY Stony Brook’s marine animal lab to see what’s up. See their full statement below, and I will update when they get the reports back.

DEC has received widespread reports of dead and dying Atlantic Menhaden (bunker) in the Hudson River and marine waters.
Report locations range from the Hudson River near Peekskill and south, Staten Island to the North Shore and East End of Long Island.
Die-off events of Menhaden are not unusual and there are various naturally occurring causes for these events. Fish, such as bunker, that swim in large schools are particularly vulnerable to low dissolved oxygen, certain environmental pressures, and pathogens.
In response to the recent events, DEC collected fish samples from the East End of Long Island and Hudson River for analysis by Stony Brook University’s Marine Animal Disease Laboratory (MADL) for further evaluation. Preliminary results of their findings will not be available until the samples are fully processed. We expect final results the end of next week.

DEC continues to monitor the event and requests additional reports and pictures be sent to
To report potential spills or other environmental violations contact DEC at 1-844-DEC-ECOS(1-844-332-3267)



  1. I have been seeing a lot of the dead fish at the south end, especially in the South Cove. Sometimes I think it even smells a bit fishy. I’m curious why there aren’t flocks of seagulls eating them. Does anybody know if seagulls won’t eat dead fish? I’ve seen a few gulls riding the waves and flying by but not a whole lot more than usual. And if that night heron still hangs out on Pier 25 (haven’t seen him/her lately) would s/he eat dead fish?

  2. They are eating them. My husband saw seagulls eating them

  3. Thanks for responding, dianne. Didn’t know that.