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Redondo Beach fish kill leaves mess, questions, and lots of compost

by Chris Hinyub, published

Clean up efforts are underway in Redondo Beach after a mysterious die-off event that began Monday night left tons of dead fish crowding the waters of King Harbor. City officials declared a local emergency to obtain county and state funds for the removal of over a million sardine carcasses from harbor waters before the stench becomes unbearable for residents.


On Wednesday, officials estimated at least $100,000 would be required to complete the second phase of the clean up after a crew of 200 retrieved some 50 tons of dead fish from the surface of the water. As of Thursday, approximately 95 percent of the original cluster of floating sardines had been removed with skimming nets or sewage removal trucks that sucked refuse from the corners of the harbor.


Sergeant Phil Keenan of the Redondo Beach Police, acting as public liason for harbor clean up operations told CAIVN yesterday that day three would focus on removing the steady stream of “bloating and exploding” fish bodies which are rising from the ocean floor. Keenan says divers estimate 30 more tons of fish carcasses rest at the harbor bottom. The city is contracting with a private firm that will vacuum up these deposits in the coming days.


As for the destination of the fish remains (a valuable agricultural commodity), Keenan said the city was contracting with a composting company located in the Victorville area. What is being seen as an emergency by officials has turned into a jubilee for the Integrated Waste Management Joint Powers Authority and California Bio-Mass, Inc. – the company that has been receiving the tens-of-tons of nutrient rich sardine biomass for processing into organic compost.


Large scale fish die-offs such as these are not unheard of in the area, but previous ones have been accompanied by clear indicators as to their cause. This one is different. Scientists are unsure about what triggered millions of fish, mostly sardines with some mackerel, to swim into the harbor all at once, causing them to deplete their oxygen supply. The prevailing theory by experts, according to the LA Times, is that “something — windy conditions, predators or perhaps a column of oxygen-poor water in the ocean — forced masses of sardines into the harbor as a storm blew in Monday evening.”


University of Southern California scientists working with the state Department of Fish and Game have found no evidence of toxins or algal blooms in the area, factors which usually cause fish kills.

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