Thousands of Dead Anchovies in Santa Cruz Harbor Prompts Emergency Declaration

The harbormaster is asking for volunteers to help scoop up floating fish

Santa Cruz has declared an emergency situation in its harbor. The problem? Dead fish. Tons of them.

Hundreds of thousands of dead anchovies are floating to the surface of the harbor.

What’s killing the fish? Apparently, there were too many fish in the harbor and not enough oxygen.

Most of the dead fish are at the bottom of the harbor, but some are floating, which is why the birds are going crazy.

The smell from the dead anchovies can’t be avoided, and it will only get worse in the next couple of days.

“The sea lions and harbor seals are gorging themselves right now,” Santa Cruz Harbormaster John Hayes said.

Officials say the same thing happened last year, but not to this level. According to Hayes, this is the worst fish kill in Santa Cruz since the 1980s.

Stephen Reed, chairman of Santa Cruz Port Commission, said a massive school of anchovies swam in on Wednesday, depleted the oxygen in the water, and then started to die en masse.

Even with aerators pumping in oxygen to the harbor, there still wasn’t enough to keep them alive.

Thursday, divers tried to save a few lucky survivors, but most of the clean-up will take place at the surface. By early Friday morning, the shiny layer of dead fish on the harbor floor will start to bloat, then float.

Not only does it stink, the chemicals in the water aren’t good for boats.

“We try to get it cleaned up as soon as we can so it doesn’t go to that stage where it’s more harmful to boats,” Hayes said.

Thursday afternoon, the port of commission declared the situation an emergency in order to fund the massive clean-up, which could take up to five days.

The harbor slip was closed Thursday to prepare for Friday’s clean-up. The harbor is open, but not many boats were seen coming or going.

The harbormaster is asking for volunteers to help scoop out the fish.

A couple of weeks ago, thousands of dead gray and white fish washed up on the sand of Manresa State Beach in Aptos. California Fish and Wildlife still don't know exactly how they got there, but think they may have been trapped in a squid boat, then dumped by the crew. It is illegal to keep any fish caught in squid nets.

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