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Environment and Outdoors

Thousands Of Dead Bait Fish Wash Ashore In Brunswick

Patty Wight
Maine Public
The pogies, a type of bait fish, appeared to have died after a single vessel which caught them was ill equipped to handle a large catch, according to Brunswick police.

Something fishy happened over the weekend. Thousands of dead pogies — a fish commonly used for bait — washed ashore along five miles of coastline in Brunswick. The sight and smell prompted community-wide concern and a clean up effort that is still underway.

Typically, pogies die after being chased by bluefish into shallow water. Oxygen in the water is rapidly depleted by the sudden influx of fish. But bluefish aren’t the culprits in this case. Instead, the Maine Marine Patrol says, a fishermen caught more pogies than he could handle and had to dump them back in the water. Brunswick resident Michelle Rudgers says she spotted them while out in her boat in Maquoit Bay a couple weeks ago, about a mile from shore.

“It just looked like a big area with a bunch of dead fish, and they were all the same, so we knew it wasn’t a major fish kill, like chemicals in the ocean,” Rudgers says.

Those fish started washing ashore last week. By the weekend, the stench had residents holding their noses and calling in complaints to Brunswick Harbor Mastor Dan Devereaux.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled rotting pogies in 90-degree heat, but they’ve been known to peel paint off the walls,” says Devereaux.

He coordinated a clean up effort on Sunday with local shell fishermen. Monday morning, he and his son Jesse fired up an air boat to retrieve trash bags of dead pogies along the coastline. It’s an unenviable job.

On one stretch of shore, flies swarm around pogies that didn’t make it into the nearly dozen filled trash bags that the Devereauxs drag to the boat.

“It’s a frustrating process, but we’ll do what we have to do,” says Devereaux. “We’re local people, right? We’ll solve the problem if we have to carry them out one by one.”

The fish piled up where the high tide comes in, and got stuck in salt marshes and tidal creeks in particular. Devereaux says it’s a quality of life issue for residents, like Frank Strasburger.

I mean we had probably 1,500 dead fish on our shore.” Strasburger says.

The stench was so unbearable at Strasburger’s shorefront home over the past several days, he and his wife couldn’t go outside. The clean up has helped, he says.

“But as you can see, we still have hundreds of dead fish,” he says. “So we’re not done by a long shot.”

Strasburger plans to ask the Brunswick town council Monday evening to insist the state step in to finish the clean up and hold the fisherman accountable for the cost. But Maine Marine Patrol Major Rene Cloutier says no one is being charged because of where the incident occurred.

If it were in a harbor or a river, or in the inter-tidal zone, it would be a violation,” says Cloutier. “But where it’s in a bay, it appears that there is no violation.”

As for the state assisting with the clean-up, Department of Marine Resources spokesperson Jeff Nichols says DMR is sympathetic to the situation, but unable to help.

“This is a very, very small and strapped agency, so the resources are extremely limited to respond in this kind of fashion,” says Nichols.

But Nichols says the department will look at how best to address this kind of situation in the future, including possible law changes regarding the waste of a natural resource.