MARINA DEL REY— A pasty cloud of deceased fish created a surreal scene along Basin A of the harbor entrance, near Bora Bora Way, during the early dawn hours of May 18.
Officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors and volunteers from the Los Angeles Waterkeeper quickly responded to the scene to witness the aftermath of a massive fish die off.
Carol Baker, of the Department of Beaches and Harbors public information office, said the multiple-day cleanup consisted of the removal of dozens of bags of fish, each weighing 40 pounds. She estimated that “tens of thousands” of fish died in the incident.
In a prepared statement, Janice Mackey, an information officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), said that “staff investigated the recent fish die-off…and concluded the northern anchovies likely died of oxygen depletion after being trapped in the harbor.”
She added: “While conducting an aerial survey over the beaches [the week of May 12], staff noticed a large anchovy school traveling outside the surf. We suspect these were the same ones later found in the harbor and may have sought cover from a predator species. Once in the harbor, the fish school became trapped and subsequently depleted all of the available oxygen in the water.”
Quill said when he returned from a self-restoration dive the night of May 17, the scene in the harbor was rather eerie and may have alluded to the next morning’s event.
“The sky was clouded with birds,” Quill said. “It was like a Hitchcock movie. Each bird was coming up with a fish. How lucky these birds were. The next morning I came back for a Marine Protected Area watch trip that we do to see a carpet of dead fish.”
Quill said the die off consisted of thousands of anchovies, but also included halibut, sea bass and other water-breathing craniates.
“It would be like looking at a football field filled with jelly beans trying to guess the amount of dead fish,” he said. “There was so many, it was mind-boggling. They measured in tons, and I heard 7,000 tons but I’m not even sure what that looks like.”
In total, Baker said Beaches and Harbors pulled about 300 bags of dead fish out of the water over the course of the first three days of the incident. She said the Los Angeles Waterkeeper volunteered the cleanup with about 20 bags of dead fish. After removing roughly 90 percent of the fish on May 19, the next day a new crop of deceased fish floated to the surface.
Implementing debris boats, the fish were transported onto a conveyer belt and into the back portion of the boat were the crew loaded the remains into bags.
“We were the main part of the cleanup effort and then we got some really great support from Los Angeles Waterkeeper,” Baker said. “What we did is clean the bulk of the fish, more than 90 percent. These are the fish that were in the fairway. And the reason why we did that is we have the equipment to handle the bulk work.”
The influx of fish attracted a swarm of sea lions, pelicans and other animals into the opening of the harbor. Quill said some fish that survived the initial oxygen depletion in Basin A may have succumbed to a similar fate.
“There’s a lot of stinky fish smell in my nose, but I’m getting through the day,” said Quill on the second day of cleanup. “It’s pretty intense.”
Los Angeles Waterkeeper, an organization with a mission to protect and restore areas such as the Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay and surrounding waters though fieldwork, community action and enforcement, assisted with cleaning areas near the slips, the rocks and in the corners of the basin, removing the fish by nets.
Mackey said CDFW also collected fish samples, which were analyzed in a lab study. She added that no other species seemed to be at risk and that, while startling, incidents such as these are not considered too unusual.
Baker said that cleanup efforts continued throughout the week of May 19 and smaller affected areas in the basins will be managed by each of the private lessees.
“We’ve never had this in Marina del Rey,” Baker said. “The incident here was nowhere near the scale of what happened in Redondo Beach a few years ago. That was a much more complex situation.”