Coromandel beaches cleaned of rotting fish

MARYANNE TWENTYMAN, ELTON SMALLMAN AND STACEY KIRK
Last updated 12:04 04/01/2013
Dead snapper litter the Coromandel Peninsula from Port Jackson to Fantail Bay
Fairfax NZ
WASHED UP: Dead snapper litter the Coromandel Peninsula from Port Jackson to Fantail Bay.

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A massive clean-up of rotting fish is underway on the Coromandel Peninsula where thousands of snapper have washed up since New Year's Eve.

Fisheries officials have warned people not to eat the fish as Thames-Coromandel District Council staff try to work out how they came to be dumped at the popular holiday spot.

TCDC communications manager Benjamin Day said the dead fish were beginning to ''rot and smell'' so the decision was made to begin the clean-up immediately.

"With the DOC campsites full and boaties launching from the beach, we want to get the place cleaned up for our visitors as fast as possible,'' he said.

The clean-up will concentrate on an area 100 metres either side of Granite Wharf, situated at Paritu, north of Colville.

It is not the first time this has happened at the small settlement.

Thousands of dead snapper also washed ashore in 2011 at Little Bay and Waikawau Bay, causing residents to wonder at the time whether they were starving or poisoned, although that was deemed unlikely.

The Ministry of Fisheries investigated that incident as well but it still remains unsolved.

Fisheries compliance manager Brendon Mikkelsen said the Ministry for Primary Industries was investigating the latest incident but could not confirm the number of dead fish found on the shore.

But local residents said the dead fish numbered in the "thousands".

It was "unlikely" the fish died of natural causes and Mikkelsen was calling for information from commercial and recreational fishers who were in the area in the days before the find.

Rotting fish now litter beaches from Port Jackson to Fantail Bay, on the western shore of the peninsula. The find was too much for some to pass up, with campers and residents out on New Year's Eve collecting fish for the plate.

"There would have been close to 10km to 12km of coastline covered with fish from what I could see . . . and all of them snapper," a Port Jackson local said. "It's gutting to see them all like that."

She said the fish were extensively damaged, leading her to think the incident could have been the result of illegal fish dumping by commercial fishers or damage to a trawling net.

"They are pretty bruised and battered and they don't have any scales on them, and I think that's the result of being in the net.

"There is no other way you could have that quantity of fish."

Mikkelsen said the incident was first reported on New Year's Day and ministry staff had been to the area as part of the investigation.

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"We would like to hear from industry and non-commercial recreational fishers in terms of anything they might have seen at sea - likely in the late evening or early morning," he said.

They had taken some snapper for testing but it was unlikely to find the answers.

No vessels currently fishing in the Coromandel area carry automatic location communicators, so the ministry is relying on information from the public, but reports are scarce.

"It is unusual because there are a lot of boaties out and about at that time of year," Mikkelsen said.

He said the fishing industry would be equally concerned and expected to hear from them in the coming days.

It is unknown how long the fish have been decaying and Mr Mikkelsen is telling people to be cautious about eating snapper collected off the beach.

"By the time people see it on the beach it has been 12 to 24 hours in the water . . . birds are pecking at it and the heat has been pretty severe."

Anyone taking dead fish from the beach to eat faced a high risk of chemical poisoning or gastric related illness, Waikato District Health Board medical officer of health Dell Hood said.

She said gastroenteritis symptoms would be expected and it was "extremely unwise" to eat fish that had been floating in the water or lying on a beach.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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