Island Anglers Witness Mass Stranding Of Bunker Fish

Jason Graziadei •

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Island anglers witnessed a mass stranding of menhaden - commonly known as bunker - on Saturday at Great Point, where hundreds of the bait fish beached themselves as they were being hunted by bluefish.

Allyson Bold was at Great Point Saturday afternoon when she noticed something she had never seen before.

"I witnessed the strangest phenomenon at Great Point today: hundreds upon hundreds of bunker - I’m guessing chased onto the beach by bigger fish," Bold said. "I probably threw back 200 to 250 fish back into the water but there were hundreds more."

Island resident Jamie Ranney was also at Great Point that day - near the Chord of the Bay on the east side of Great Point - and witnessed the same phenomenon as Bold.

"I kicked a bunch back into the water that were still alive, but there were tons and tons - hundreds probably - that were already dead," Ranney said. "The seagulls were already starting to have a field day. And a lot of the ones that washed up had wounds on them from being bitten by the bluefish."

Steve Tornovish was another witness to the stranding on Saturday. He said the bunker were "herded up along the beach by monster bluefish. There were some striped bass, brown sharks and the ubiquitous seals joining in on the easy meal. It was something to sea!"

According to NOAA Fisheries, menhaden can be found in coastal waters from Nova Scotia to northern Florida, and are filter feeders, primarily consuming phytoplankton and zooplankton in the water column. "Menhaden support an important commercial fishery. They constitute the largest landings, by volume, along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. Menhaden are harvested for use as fertilizers, animal feed, and bait for fisheries including blue crab and lobster."

While a sight like what happened on Great Point on Saturday is rare, bunker are known to strand in large numbers under the right conditions.

Nantucket captain and naturalist Blair Perkins said menhaden were relatively rare when he was growing up on the island, but their population now supports other marine mammal species around the island.

"Gray seals are also feeding on them opportunistically as well," Perkins said. "Bunker were rare in numbers while I was growing up. Huge numbers of them now. Had some dolphins feeding on them yesterday out in Madaket. Whales have been taking advantage of the influx locally over the last several years also."

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