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Fish

Roasted Chicken Provencal

Seared Halibut with Lemon Butter Sauce

Seared halibut with lemon sauce
Seared halibut with lemon butter sauce

YIELD: Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

Lemon Butter Sauce:

1/2 cup white wine

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

8 tablespoons whipping cream

3/4 teaspoon fresh garlic, chopped

turmeric, to taste

salt, to taste

white pepper, to taste

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

Halibut:

4 teaspoons olive oil

4 halibut filets (6-8 ounces each)

salt

pepper

lemon zest

herbs

Vegetables:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 small zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch strips

2 small yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch strips

2 small red peppers, washed, seeded and sliced into strips

Potatoes:

2 cups Idahoan Signature Russets Mashed Potatoes (from 16.23-ounce package)

DIRECTIONS: For lemon butter sauce, add white wine, lemon juice, cream, garlic, turmeric, salt and pepper to saute pan. Heat on high heat and reduce to half its original volume. While lemon sauce is reducing, prepare fish and vegetables. Once reduced, remove from heat and swirl in diced butter.

For halibut, heat nonstick skillet on medium-high heat with olive oil. Season halibut with salt and pepper. Sear until deep golden brown, approximately 5 minutes each side. Remove from heat and cover with foil.

For vegetables, add olive oil to skillet over medium-high heat. Saute zucchini, squash and pepper until crisp-tender, about 2-3 minutes. Keep warm.

For potatoes, prepare mashed potatoes following package instructions. To serve, plate mashed potatoes, vegetables and halibut. Drizzle halibut with lemon butter sauce and garnish with lemon zest and fresh herbs.

Note: Haddock or striped bass can be substituted for halibut.

Roasted Chicken Provencal

Roasted Chicken Provencal
Roasted Chicken Provencal

YIELD: Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

8 chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup chicken broth

2 thyme sprigs

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 cups Idahoan Signature Russets Mashed Potatoes (from 16.23-ounce package)

1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup pitted black olives, halved

sauteed green beans

DIRECTIONS: Sprinkle chicken thighs with salt and pepper. In 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, brown chicken thighs on both sides in hot oil. Add white wine, chicken broth, thyme sprigs and garlic. Over high heat, heat mixture to boiling. Cover and simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, prepare mashed potatoes according to package directions. In skillet, add mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and olives; cover and simmer 5 minutes longer until chicken is tender. Serve chicken thighs with mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans.

Source: Idahoan Mashed Potatoes

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Garret Warren, left, celebrates the largest fish ever captured at the tournament. Photo from Carole Paquette

By Joseph Wolkin

The bait came out and so did smiles across the faces of 43 children on Saturday, June 11.

The 14th annual Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve’s Junior Angler Fishing Tournament was a big catch for Smithtown’s youth. As the bait flew into the water, the kids battled one another to see who would catch the most fish, the largest pan one, along with the biggest “other” fish.

One of two natural preserves on Long Island, Caleb Smith State Park Preserve sits amidst 543 acres in Smithtown. Named after Caleb Smith, who was a judge for the Court of Common Pleas of Suffolk County, along with being a member of the state assembly in the 18th century, the property was dedicated in his name when it was acquired by the state in 1963.

At the end of the tournament, Garrett Warren, 11, came home with the largest fish of the day. Warren set a record for the largest fish caught in the tournament’s 14-year history, catching a 19.5-inch bass and shattering the previous record of approximately 15 inches.

“The fish cooperated and nearly every child caught a fish,” Tom Tokosh, president of the tournament, said. “Last year, we were in the neighborhood of maybe 32 [kids]. It goes year-to-year. I think we did better with marketing this year. I went to some trade shows and put flyers out and stuff.

“We also had a high participation rate. Last year, we had 25 people sign up for the afternoon session, but only 18 showed up. It depends on the weekend I think.”

10-year-old Erik Trovitch ended the day with the most fish caught, reeling in 17 creatures during the afternoon session for kids 9 to 12.

Parents were not allowed to help their children during the afternoon session. However, during the morning round, parents could cast the line, but the children needed to reel the fish in and bring them to shore.

During the morning session, which featured children from ages 5 to 8, 6-year-old Anderson Martinez won first prize for catching a morning-high 12 fish. Additionally, Veronica Leitner, 5, caught the largest “other” fish, bringing home a 14-inch bass.

“All of the fish were released,” Tokosh explained. “We might have hurt a few getting the hooks out, but basically, all of the fish were released. The kids had a great time, and it’s a good experience for them with their parents to bond and do stuff together.”

At the completion of the tournament, 204 fish were caught, measured and released, breaking the previous record of just under 200 fish caught during the tournament, according to Tokosh.

Among those also winning trophies were 9-year-old Gianna Valenti in the largest pan fish category and Brendan Lee-McGraw, 6, in the same section but during the morning round.

Adult glasseye snappers, collected on Cocos Island, Costa Rica, in 1928. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport is home to the largest privately assembled collection of sea specimens from the preatomic era.

Now, thanks to a $135,000 grant from The Robert D. L. Gardiner Foundation, the museum is beginning to perform crucial conservation measures on many of those rare specimens. The foundation gave the Vanderbilt  Museum the two-year grant in January. In July, the curatorial staff began working on some of the more than 1,000 wet (preserved in fluid) specimens exhibited on the second floor of the Marine Museum. An additional 600 are on display in the mansion’s Memorial Wing.

Adult glasseye snappers, collected on Cocos Island, Costa Rica, in 1928. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum
Adult glasseye snappers, collected on Cocos Island, Costa Rica, in 1928. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

Among the marine life William K. Vanderbilt II found on oceanic collecting expeditions during the early 20th century were 67 new discoveries.  Stephanie Gress, the museum’s director of curatorial services, said the finds — not previously identified — are called “type specimens.” Most of the 40 ocean fish and 27 marine invertebrates have been on loan to the American Museum of Natural History since the 1990s.

Gress said the Gardiner grant is invaluable to the future of the marine collection, as many of the specimens have not been touched since the last major conservation-restoration project in the 1990s. The project is “very time- and labor-intensive,” she said.

“Cracked seals on the specimen jars and containers let in air, which evaporates some of the preservative fluid,” she said. “That exposes fish and other creatures to possible deterioration. Air leaks also make it easy for infections and mold to develop on the specimens.”

Gress said she and her colleagues prepared a manual with step-by-step procedures and careful protocols for working with the specimens. Conservation includes opening the containers, cleaning them, gently treating infected specimens, replacing the fluid (alcohol and water), resealing the containers with fabric tape and melted beeswax and affixing new labels.

Vanderbilt had the museum’s seamless specimen jars and containers custom-made in Germany nearly a century ago, and they are irreplaceable, Gress said.

An intriguing project detail is the creative reuse of the original calligraphy from the 1930s specimen labels. “We took samples of each hand-calligraphed letter to create the alphabet for a typeface for the new labels we’re making,” Gress said. “With the original calligraphy as a model, curatorial assistant Kirsten Amundsen fashioned a nearly identical typeface by using existing, computerized calligraphy pen strokes in accurate proportions,” she added.

The marine collection was the first aspect of what became Vanderbilt’s larger natural history museum. He built the single-story building he called The Hall of Fishes in 1922 and opened it on a limited basis to the public. By the late 1920s, after more oceanic expeditions, his marine collection outgrew its original space. He added a second floor by 1930.

The two largest marine specimens are a 32-foot whale shark — the world’s largest example of fish taxidermy — and a manta ray with a 16.5-foot wingspan. The shark, caught in 1935 and restored in 2008 with a federal Save America’s Treasures grant, is the centerpiece of the habitat animal-dioramas gallery. The ray, which Vanderbilt called the Sea Devil, was caught in 1916 and recast in the late 1990s. It is exhibited prominently on the first floor of the Marine Museum.

“The Vanderbilt [Museum] is the only Long Island destination with a world-class planetarium and natural history collections that rival those at major urban museums,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director. “In addition to thousands of rare marine specimens, the Vanderbilt collections range from an Egyptian mummy and 18 wild-animal dioramas to ethnographic artifacts from Africa and the South Pacific, fine and decorative arts and centuries-old furnishings.”

Nearly a century after Vanderbilt found those 67 new type specimens, his museum still receives inquiries about some of them. “A marine biology doctoral student contacted me recently about a particular invertebrate, whose common name is the Elegant Coral Crab,” Gress said. “I told him he’d have to call the American Museum of Natural History,” where Vanderbilt’s type specimens are housed.

“Mr. Vanderbilt is credited with the discovery and identification of the first of each of those species,” Gress said. The type specimens were published in editions of the Bulletin of the Vanderbilt Marine Museum, prepared between 1928 and 1938 by scientists Lee Boone and Nicholas Borodin. “Mr. Vanderbilt and his associates had the fun task of naming the new specimens,” she said. “Some were named for his wife, himself or his scientific team.”

Vanderbilt added marine specimens to the second-floor gallery chronologically, she said. When the restoration is complete, the specimens will be put back into the tall display cases in taxonomic order, in which like specimens are exhibited together. In the Invertebrate Room of the museum’s Memorial Wing, wet specimens are arranged by complexity of the organism.

The Vanderbilt marine collection of 13,190 specimens, housed in the Marine Museum, Habitat and Memorial Wing, includes wet and dry specimens and dry marine invertebrates (shells and corals).

For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

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Experts have blamed nitrogen runoff for problems of hypoxia and dangerous algae blooms in coastal waters. File photo from Angelo Peluso

By Angelo Peluso

September marks the beginning of meteorological autumn. It is a time when we bid farewell to summer and embrace the magnificence of the fall migratory run of local game fish.

This is a time eagerly awaited by all Long Island anglers, as amassing baitfish and pursuing game fish move into high gear. The stage has been set all around Long Island for the grandest spectacle of the fishing season. Although no place is more representative of this activity than the fabled waters of Montauk Point and the beaches of the South Shore, the open Long Island Sound and the beaches of the North Shore can give anglers a solid opportunity at some terrific fall action.

While North Shore fishing may not be as frenzied, concentrated or sustained as it is at the end of Long Island, there is, nonetheless, some fine fishing to be had for those who put in the time and are willing to move about to find fish.

Angler Craig Scail with a fine brace of local, Long Island Sound black sea bass. Photo from Angelo Peluso
Angler Craig Scail with a fine brace of local, Long Island Sound black sea bass. Photo from Angelo Peluso

A decade or so ago the North Shore of Long Island would boast respectable spring and early fall runs of striped bass. Conditions related to cyclical weather changes, baitfish movement and the migratory patterns and behaviors of game fish, most notably striped bass, have somewhat altered the landscape of the fall run in the area of the central Long Island Sound. It seems as if the last half dozen years or so have brought stronger spring fishing than prolonged fall runs, especially those runs that occur close to the beaches, whereas the fall run would often last a few weeks. Now, some of the best late-season inshore bass fishing can often be measured in days, not weeks. The exception to this is that whatever bass remain in the area congregate off many of the deep-water drop-offs to bulk up on bait that follows the same path. At this time of year, diamond jigging is king.

But all is not lost to the shore-bound angler.

One of the keys to scoring bass and big blues from September to the end of the season is mobility. A body in motion should stay in motion until such time as fish are located. Too many anglers spend too much time remaining stagnant, waiting for the fish. There are many time-tested spots where the probabilities are high that fish will move in as certain phases of the tide or current movement, so spend time fishing those locations.

Obviously, these situations vary with the seasons, but time on the water and consistent previous successes are good barometers of future potential. That said, from September until the end of the season, any of the central Long Island beaches from those in and around the Huntington Harbor/Eatons Neck area, out to the beaches of the North Fork, can turn on any given day with bass headed east and close to the edges of the surf line. Many of the bass that linger west of Huntington in Nassau County tend to move west and back out into the New York Bight, but those movements are not always easy to predict as they are on the South Shore, where fish move east to west. Bass and some large blues can be seen in the Sound moving both east and west, so who knows how the fish decide to leave the Sound.

That movement, though, argues for the angler to remain in motion and to keep tabs on the whereabouts of fall bait. While not all parts of the Sound enjoy prolific concentrations of bait throughout the season, the cooling down of water temperatures and the shortened hours of daylight in September will stimulate various baits to amass into large rafts. Sand eels, spearing, bay anchovies and white bait like finger mullet will motivate the bass and blues. Most bait will be found along deep-water drops, moving out from the harbors or cruising the surf line. All scenarios present productive fishing opportunities.

A local effort to ban a popular ingredient in beauty products has support on the federal level.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman visited Long Island recently to announce the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, a bipartisan federal bill that would ban cosmetics containing plastic pellets called microbeads, which are frequently smaller than 1 millimeter in diameter and are found in face washes, shampoos, beauty products and other soaps.

Because of their size, most wastewater treatment systems are unable to filter out the microbeads, so they are released into local waterways like the Long Island Sound. But microbeads accumulate toxins in the water, and fish and birds ingest them. Public health could be at risk if the fish are reeled in and eaten.

Schneiderman reported that about 19 tons of the small pellets pass through New York wastewater treatment plants each year.

Gillibrand’s bill has sponsors and co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, most of them from the Midwest, according to a press release from the senator’s office. It is similar to a New York state-level bill of the same name, which is Schneiderman’s effort to prohibit the sale and distribution of products containing microbeads.

“These tiny pieces of plastic have already caused significant ecological damage to New York’s waterways,” Gillibrand said, “and they will continue to do so until they are removed from the marketplace.”

The state bill passed the Assembly in the last session but was not put up for a vote in the Senate, despite having more co-sponsors than the number of votes it would have needed to pass.

New York is not alone in pushing to ban microbeads — Illinois has already given them the axe, and other states are considering similar legislation.

Many local residents first heard about the issue when Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) led her colleagues to passing a law that required the county to study how a microbead ban would affect health and the economy.

She commended officials for their anti-microbead effort on the national stage.

“The threat posed by microbead waste is of national consequence,” Hahn said in the press release. “The cumbersome task of tackling this issue [from] municipality to municipality and state to state will never prove as effective as a federal approach.”

Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the local Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said there are other effective alternatives to microbeads, such as apricot shells, salt and oatmeal.

“The public expects facial soaps and toothpaste to clean our face and teeth, not pollute our waters,” Esposito said. “Plastic microbeads pollute our waters, contaminate our fish and shellfish, and could end up back on our dinner plates. They are completely unnecessary.”

William Belanske sketches while waiting with his luggage to embark on a journey with William K. Vanderbilt II. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum archives

William E. Belanske already had an enviable job as an artist and taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) when he got a call from William K. Vanderbilt II.

The year was 1926 and Vanderbilt was preparing for an expedition on his yacht Ara to collect animal and marine life. The voyage would take him to one of the most scientifically diverse and remote places on earth — the Galápagos Islands, on the Equator off the coast of Ecuador. He needed an artist to record the live specimens he would bring back to his private museum in Centerport. To Belanske, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, which marked the 65th anniversary of its official opening on July 6, has created a new exhibit honoring Belanske’s work.

On display in the Memorial Wing of the museum, the installation features a recreation of Belanske’s studio on the Vanderbilt Estate and includes some of the detailed paintings of the numerous marine specimens Vanderbilt collected from the oceans of the world. Large illustrated panels detail Belanske’s work, on the expeditions and at the museum.

Kirsten Amundsen and Brandon Williams of the curatorial staff came up with the exhibit concept and design.

“The ship’s artist, Mr. William E. Belanske, has been with me since 1926,” Vanderbilt wrote in 1932. “He makes accurate paintings of rare fish. With every scale carefully drawn, every shade, every nuance of color exactly portrayed, his reproductions are true, lifelike, and of value to science.”

In 1927, following the Ara expedition, Vanderbilt requested Belanske’s services full time at his museum, and Belanske chose to resign from the AMNH. He served as Vanderbilt’s curator and lived in a cottage on the estate from 1928 to 1945. His work included taking part in around-the-world cruises on the Ara in 1928-1929 and on the Alva in 1931-1932.

Notably, Belanske collaborated with the renowned painter Henry Hobart Nichols (also of the AMNH) to create the Vanderbilt Habitat in 1930, nine stunning dioramas that depict animal life from several continents. The centerpiece of the room is a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935.

Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs for the Vanderbilt Museum, said, “On the Ara, they placed fish in holding tanks with saltwater to keep them alive. Belanske would paint the catches immediately in order to record the colors accurately.”

Before color photography, Gress said, the beauty and vibrant hues of the collected marine specimens could only be captured with an artist’s hand. Belanske’s perfect color images of the specimens were displayed in the Marine Museum next to the faded, fluid-preserved specimens.

When he returned to his studio, the artist began the time-consuming task of creating his final images. He used his notes, measurements and rough sketches to create fully accurate, detailed fish prints worthy of scientific publication, she said.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Through Sept. 6, the museum will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Activists, politicians, volunteers taking closer look at declining population of Long Island’s ocean life

Horseshoe crabs have been on Earth for almost 500 million years, but their future is uncertain. Researchers like Matt Sclafani, a marine educator from the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead, said he believes that the species is in an alarming decline.

“It’s a very important issue for a lot of reasons,” Sclafani said during a horseshoe crab monitoring session at West Meadow beach in Stony Brook on Monday night.

Horseshoe crabs are a valuable species to human life, Sclafani said. Their blue blood is used for pharmaceutical purposes. Fishermen use them as one of the most effective sources of bait that exists.

Sclafani called Delaware Bay the epicenter for horseshoe crab spawning activity, with Long Island coming in as a close second as one of the most important areas to the species on the East Coast, he said.

Sclafani and his team of volunteers take to the local shores when the tides are low, usually in the middle of the night, to count and tag horseshoe crabs that come up to the shore to spawn. On Monday, Sclafani was joined by Frank Chin, the regular site coordinator for West Meadow beach, along with Grace Scalzo, a volunteer, and Karen Papa and her sons — 12-year-old Zachary and 8-year-old Jonah.

North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski
North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We get a lot of volunteers for this program,” Sclafani said. “That’s the part I think is really great, too. We get people involved in their backyards. There’s not a lot of marine life that you can get involved with and handle this directly — that comes right out onto the beach for you without a net or fishing pole.”

In all, the team tagged 55 horseshoe crabs over the course of the night, though that is nothing compared to the night on the South Shore when Sclafani said he and a team of about 35 volunteers tagged about 800 crabs. The process requires measurement, drilling a small hole into the shell, and then applying a round tag that has tracking information on it which is recorded.

“I think the entire population up and down the East Coast is in trouble,” Larry Swanson, associate dean of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said of the horseshoe crab population in an interview last week. “It’s in trouble for a variety of reasons including people overfishing the population, but also certain birds, including the red knot, are particularly prone to using them as a food source.”

Sclafani said the consequences could be dire, if the crabs are not saved.

“Their eggs are really important to the ecosystem,” Sclafani said. “A lot of animals feed on them, including migratory shore birds.”

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) divulged plans to urge the Department of Environmental Conservation to expand restrictions on harvesting horseshoe crabs in May, to the chagrin of fishermen. Those plans have since been tabled.

“I’m just a man, but I’m a vital part of the food chain and I think I’m at the top,” Ron Bellucci Jr. of Sound Beach said in an interview last month.

Horseshoe crab harvesting is a vital part of his income, he said. Local fishermen have also questioned the validity of claims about the declining population.

North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski
North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski

The idea that the species may not be declining is not an encouraging sign to Malcolm Bowman, professor of physical oceanography and distinguished service professor at SoMAS, Stony Brook. He is also the president of Stony Brook Environmental Conservancy and the Friends of Flax Pond, two environmental advocacy groups.

“We know in nature that things go up and down, and up and down, but you have to look at long-term trends; 10 years, 20 years,” Bowman said in an interview last week. “I’ve worked with fishermen a lot. They have to make a living, I understand that, but it’s important to keep communications between the scientists and say the fishermen with mutual respect, and that way we can learn a lot from them. We scientists are trained to have a long-term view. It’s not just this season, this summer, this breeding season. It’s a long-term view. I think that’s so important.”

More restricted areas, which Romaine is pushing for, could simply result in overharvesting in areas without restrictions, both Bowman and Sclafani said.

There has also been some experimentation with extracting the blue blood while the animal is still alive, then rereleasing them into the water. This process is called biomedical harvesting.

“That’s becoming a more and more controversial topic,” Sclafani said. “The biomedical companies have maintained that it’s a low mortality rate — about 10 percent … they might even be as high as 40 or 50 percent.”

He also mentioned that there are concerns about the horseshoe crabs’ spawning activity after this process is completed.

Bowman stopped short of saying that the extinction of the horseshoe crab would have a drastic impact on human life, but it’s not a good sign.

“I was reading some very important news that’s coming out about the extinction of species on the planet,” Bowman said. “Species are going extinct at a huge rate. The cumulative effect is going to have a very bad effect on human civilization, far greater than we can imagine. We only see a little piece of it.”

Pumping nitrogen into our local waters can contribute to fish kills and have other nasty environmental effects. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

There is no need more basic than clean water. We need it in its simplest form to survive, but we also need it to be clean so that it can sustain the animals and plants we eat and support the environments we live in. So why aren’t we trying harder to avoid pumping it with toxins?

Tens of thousands of dead bunker fish have recently washed up on eastern Long Island, killed by low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. Algal blooms are a cause of those low oxygen levels, and that’s where we come in — the blooms, in turn, can be caused by excess nitrogen in the water. How does that nitrogen get there? It can come from our septic and sewage treatment systems and from the fertilizers we use on our nicely manicured lawns, to name just a few sources.

We may not be able to avoid using the toilet, but we can easily refrain from dumping fertilizers with harmful chemicals into the ground and our water supply. But many of us are operating on obsolete waste systems and our governments should be making it a top priority — in action, not just rhetoric — to move communities over from septic to sewer.

This is undoubtedly a costly process, but it has benefits beyond the immediate. For example, sewer systems enable and encourage development, which is important for all of the downtown areas we are working to revitalize. Revitalized downtowns could help keep young people on Long Island, reversing the brain drain that is the source of such frequent sound bites for our politicians.

Shoring up our water management plans would create a ripple effect throughout so many other important items on our political and social agendas. Without clean water, none of these ambitious improvements will be achieved. We are calling for a heightened awareness from both our neighbors and our public officials not to let our water initiatives run dry.

Suffolk officials discuss environmental issues facing Long Island after thousands of dead fish washed ashore in Riverhead. Photo by Alex Petroski

The estimated nearly 100,000 dead bunker fish that have washed ashore in Riverhead may seem astounding, but it wasn’t all that surprising to the panel of experts brought before the Suffolk County Health Committee on Thursday.

In late May, the thousands of dead bunker fish, formally known as Atlantic menhaden fish, began appearing in the Peconic Estuary, an area situated between the North and South Forks of Long Island. According to a June 2 press release from the Peconic Estuary Program, the bunker fish died as a result of low dissolved oxygen in the water. This shortage of oxygen is called hypoxia.

Walter Dawydiak, director of the county’s environmental quality division, who serves on the panel, which was organized by the health committee chairman, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), testified that the number of dead fish was at or approaching 100,000.

“This one is bigger and worse than any,” Dawydiak said.

According to the PEP, which is part of the National Estuary Program and seeks to conserve the estuary, bunker are filter-feeding fish and an important food source for many predatory fish, including striped bass and blue fish.

Alison Branco, the program’s director, said the fish are likely being chased into shallow waters by predators, but are dying because of low dissolved oxygen levels in the waters. In addition, an algae bloom is contributing to the low levels and is fueled by excess nitrogen loading. Much of that nitrogen comes from septic systems, sewage treatment plants and fertilizer use.

“We’ve reach a point where this kind of hypoxia was run of the mill. We expect it every summer,” Branco, who also served as a panelist, said following the hearing.

While magnitude of the fish kill was astounding, the experts said they weren’t so surprised that it happened.

“I definitely thought it could happen at any time,” Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University, said in a one-on-one interview after the panel hearing. “There’s been an oxygen problem there all along.”

Gobler called it largest fish kill he’d seen in 20 years.

According to panel members, the worst of the fish kill occurred between May 27 and May 30.

Branco did suggest that this shocking environmental event could be turned into a positive if the right measures are taken sooner rather than later.

“It’s always shocking to see a fish kill,” she said. “As much as we don’t want to have things like that happen I think the silver lining is that it did capture the public’s attention.”

Prevention of a fish kill this large is possible, according to Branco. While preventing the harmful algal blooms is not possible, reducing the frequency and severity can be done if the amount of nitrogen in the coastal water supply is controlled.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an environmental policy advocacy group, agreed that curtailing the amount of nitrogen in the water is the easiest and most impactful way for prevention of a fish kill of this magnitude.

“The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step,” Esposito said in response to a question about the daunting task of fixing the Island’s sewage treatment techniques and facilities on a limited budget.

Esposito described the roughly $5 million from New York State, which was allotted to Suffolk County to deal with cleaning the coastal water supply, as seed money. Esposito and Branco both said they believe the commitment of time and money required to solve the nitrogen problem in the water supply will be vast.

“We can do this,” she said. “We have to do it. We have no choice.”