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Thousands of dead fish scooped from Ventura Harbor

April 19, 2011 |  9:54 am

Officials were trying to determine Tuesday what caused thousands of sardines to turn up dead in Ventura Harbor, another puzzling case of fish that died off after apparently using up all their oxygen.

Deadfish-tn Harbor master Scott Miller said he arrived Monday morning to find patches of dead sardines floating on the surface of the southwest corner of the harbor.

Other fish bobbed near the surface, appearing to gasp for air.

After deploying aerators to stir up oxygen below the surface, a dozen volunteers used nets to scoop about 6 tons of fish carcasses from the water before dumping them offshore, he said.

The incident comes about six weeks after millions of sardines died in Redondo Beach after swimming en masse into King Harbor and suffocating.

In a massive cleanup last month, workers removed about 175 tons of fish carcasses that floated in the marina and began to rot underwater.

Although the dead fish in King Harbor tested positive for domoic acid, a poison generated by toxic algae blooms, scientists believe the fish gathered in the enclosed harbor in such huge numbers that they died of critically low oxygen levels, not poisoning.

So far, the fish kill in Ventura appears to be much smaller.

Masses of fish started crowding Ventura Harbor about a week ago, Miller said, though it was unclear what drove them there.

"We just think they moved in there, and it was just like crowding too many people into a room," he said. "There's no sign of red tide, and there's no indication otherwise on why that would have happened, other than oxygen deprivation."

Dolphins, sea lions, porpoises and seabirds streamed into the harbor to feast on the heavy concentration of easy prey.

The die-off seems to have subsided since the cleanup and aeration, Miller said.

"We think we got about 90% of the fish," he said. "And the birds this morning probably got the rest of them."


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Photo: Thousands of dead fish line boat slips Monday in Ventura Harbor. Credit: Stephen Osman / Ventura County Star