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35 tons of dead sardines scooped from King Harbor so far; cleanup costs top $100,000

March 9, 2011 |  2:41 pm

Madelyn Sawyer scoops up dead fish floating in King Harbor.

The effort to rid King Harbor of millions of dead fish before they start to decay had the look of a lab experiment Wednesday.

Boats trawled slowly through the Redondo Beach marina, dragging nets behind them to capture fish from a thick layer of carcasses deposited on the harbor bottom.

Volunteers wearing rubber gloves went from slip to slip scooping floating clusters of sardines with fishing nets and plucking individual, hot-dog sized fish from the water.

Firefighters aimed a hose at the harbor bottom to try to agitate the fish for a diver to capture. And a sewer vacuum truck was converted to suck fish from the water with a long plastic hose that had the look of an elephant's trunk.

Redondo Beach officials said it will take several days and cost at least $100,000 to clean up King Harbor after the sudden fish die-off that began Monday evening.

By the end of the day Tuesday, public works crews had removed 35 tons of fish, mostly by skimming the ocean surface. They expect at least that amount have collected on the bottom of the inner harbor in a 2-foot-thick layer.

About 200 city workers and 75 volunteers are working to get as many fish as they can out of the harbor and into plastic-lined dumpsters before the animals start to decay and cause further problems.

As the fish start to decompose, oxygen-eating bacteria could cause levels to dip a second time and kill anything else living in the harbor. The decay also could boost nutrients in the harbor, leading to an algae bloom that could also deplete oxygen to critically low levels.

"The smell is going to be horrific," said Redondo Beach Police Sgt. Phil Keenan.

"The quicker we remove the decaying fish the better opportunity we have for recovery," said Bill Workman, Redondo Beach's city manager. "Time is of the essence; we have to move quickly."


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-- Tony Barboza at King Harbor

Photo:  Madelyn Sawyer scoops up dead fish floating in King Harbor. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times