SANTA CRUZ — All this week, an inflow of anchovies, hundreds probably thousands and thousands of the baitfish, inundated the waters close to the Santa Cruz shoreline, drawing swarms of sea birds and stoking considerations on the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor.
“They swam in right here Sunday evening,” mentioned Santa Cruz Port District Harbormaster Blake Anderson. “One among my patrol guys observed it and despatched me an image of some fish. After which Monday morning, once I got here in and really noticed what number of fish, we began deploying our aerator system.”
Since Sunday, the harbor’s workers has been intently monitoring the abundance of anchovies, measuring oxygen ranges and deploying the aerator system to stop the fish horde from suffocating en masse.
The final large baitfish die-off occurred within the late summer time of 2014 and led to an enormous cleanup effort on the harbor and a foul fishy odor to permeate alongside the affected shoreline. To stop the smelly nightmare situation from occurring once more, the aerators on the north and south sides of the harbor are working additional time.
“We’ve got aerators all through the harbor,” mentioned Anderson. “They put oxygen again into the water. The oxygen is being depleted because the fish swim and as they breathe. It’s lots like your property fish tank. We’re attempting to aerate that water and convey extra oxygen to the water.”
Anderson mentioned that the crew on the harbor offers with comparable fish points on a seasonal foundation, and it’s typically in the summertime and early fall when the baitfish are likely to swamp the shoreline and Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor.
“Some years now we have extra and a few now we have much less,” mentioned Anderson. “This specific group of fish that’s right here proper now is likely one of the largest that we’ve seen in recent times.”
Anderson mentioned that they’ve been lucky to not expertise a mass die-off within the harbor in recent times, which he mentioned is largely as a result of assist of the aerators. The fish appear to take the trace and depart after the system is switched on, as a result of as Anderson identified, the gadgets serve a double operate.
“Not solely does it present extra oxygen to the water, which is in the end what we’d like, we consider that it creates a nuisance sound that possibly they don’t like,” mentioned Anderson. “We’re hopeful that that can assist to drive them out of right here, too.”
Anderson mentioned that, in accordance with their measurements, the oxygen ranges within the water had been at their lowest Monday morning, however have gone up via the week. Nevertheless, he and the harbor workers remained on edge till the tide turned of their favor Friday morning.
“It’s a big biomass,” mentioned Anderson. “If the fish keep in right here for lengthy sufficient, there are such a lot of of them that no quantity of aeration or mitigation goes to assist. The biomass will simply overwhelm the aeration system and that’s when now we have the die-offs.”
As to why this latest anchovy faculty appeared bigger than regular, Anderson mentioned it may very well be as a consequence of quite a few components within the dynamic ocean, however to the rationale behind their invasion of the harbor, Anderson did discover some anomalous habits that might level to the anchovies’ motives.
“Up and down the coast in Santa Cruz, we’re listening to about the identical factor occurring,” mentioned Anderson. “Over at Cowell’s and Sunny Cove and Black’s Seaside all of the baitfish are up towards the shoreline — virtually within the waves. That’s additionally occurring in South County. Our companion businesses are telling us there’s tons of bait fish close to the shore. One thing is pushing the entire fish on this space towards the shore.”
Anderson identified that this phenomenon may very well be attributable to predators resembling whales or sea lions driving the fish towards the coast, but it surely is also as a consequence of ocean situations resembling a scarcity of oxygen additional out at sea.
Avid ocean swimmer Peggy Miles, who information the ocean water temperature for the Sentinel, additionally observed the bigger colleges of anchovies this week with the ocean fowl swarms in tow. Miles mentioned that she doesn’t thoughts the anchovies and even enjoys swimming via the large colleges of small fish.
“I’ve been swimming within the ocean actually each morning, until it’s unsafe, for 40 years,” mentioned Miles. “The anchovies are wonderful. It’s like large black clouds within the water, and also you don’t understand that it’s fish till you get there. Then, unexpectedly the cloud separates and so they by no means contact you. It’s type of like Moses crossing the Purple Sea.”
Miles mentioned that when the solar hits the anchovies excellent, the seemingly black mass illuminates and sparkles underneath the water.
“When the sunshine hits them as they’re shifting, they’re silver and so they mirror and so they’re simply attractive,” mentioned Miles. “It’s a really particular expertise to swim with the anchovies.”
She mentioned that the anchovies gave the impression to be most energetic the place she swims close to Cowell Seaside on Wednesday and dissipated Thursday and Friday, however the “conference of pelicans” and different mobs of sea birds left a lingering stink.
“With that many pelicans round, there’s in all probability a variety of pelican poop within the water, and that’s what was smelling fishy,” she mentioned.
In a press release Friday afternoon, the Santa Cruz Port District introduced that the newest oxygen stage measurements indicated that the state of affairs had improved and that the aerators could be turned off.
“We’re on anchovy watch 24/7 when these fish are available in right here as a result of we all know how unhealthy it’s after they die,” mentioned Anderson. “It creates an enormous mess and it’s very disagreeable for everybody on the harbor, so we attempt to do every little thing we are able to in our energy to stop these fish from dying.”
Though oxygen ranges within the harbor are rising, the port district requested that boaters who observe giant concentrations of fish contained in the harbor and close to the harbor entrance, or if boaters observe fish leaping in a big space to contact the harbor at VHF Channel 9, by cellphone at 831-475-6161 or after enterprise hours at 831-471-1131.