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Have we avoided yet another bunker kill?

The rainy, cooler weather of late may have a silver lining: It may have helped prevent a repeat of the bunker fish kill that occurred in the Peconic Estuary in 2015.

At least that’s how it seems to a pair of men who make their living out on the water, who reported that the fish, also known as menhaden, appear healthier this year and are staying farther from the shore.

“We’ve been keeping up with them so far,” said Will Caldwell, whose Aquebogue-based company, C Well Fish, was hired last year to remove bunker fish from the Peconic River to prevent another die-off. “We haven’t had that big push. There’s a lot in the Great Peconic Bay, in the deep water out there,” Mr. Caldwell said.

“We’re still catching as many, but we’re working more toward Meetinghouse Creek than in the river,” he added.

Riverhead bay constable Jim Divan had a similar observation. He also noted that the fish were farther out to sea this year, and appeared healthier.

Last year, the towns of Riverhead and Southampton agreed to pay one penny for every pound of bunker removed, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation agreed to pay Mr. Caldwell two cents per pound to make catching bunker more profitable. More than 400,000 pounds of bunker were caught last year.

The fish are sold as chum or bait, Mr. Caldwell said. They are brought to his business, packed into tractor trailers and shipped to markets nearby and in Maine and Virginia.

In other areas, the big market for bunker is for fish oil sales, such as Omega-3 oils, he said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the town hasn’t been asked to pay anything this year, although he is aware that bunker are being caught.

Mr. Caldwell said he believes his company’s efforts are helping to stabilize the situation, but it’s not the only factor.

“The cooler weather is really keeping things at bay,” he said. “The ocean is only 52 degrees. Normally, fish prefer to come in around the 60-degree range.

“If we can survive the month of June, we’re in good shape,” he said.

Photo caption: Fishermen Charlie Temkey (from left), Dave Inoue and Willie Caldwell net bunker out of the Peconic River last May. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

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