RED BANK — Dead fish are washing up at the Jersey Shore but the DEP says it's just a natural occurrence and nothing to be concerned about.

The menhaden (aka peanut bunker) fish ranging in size from about three inches to five inches started floating last week in the water of Red Bank's Marine Park along the Navesink River.

State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna said Wednesday that it's just a natural phenomenon.

"This appears to be small and isolated. Just some scattered fish floating in the area, except for small clusters of dead fish pushed by the wind against bulkheads," Hajna told New Jersey 101.5 in an email. "This appears to be the typical bunker mortality that occurs when school get pushed up river by predator fish into shallow, confined water that has low salinity and low oxygen. Just a natural phenomenon.

Late Wednesday afternoon, there was no noticeable smell, but plenty of dead and dying fish were visible.

Dead peanut bunker in Waackaack Creek in Keansburg. (NJ DEP)

Hajna said the Monmouth County Health Department noted dead fish in the area of Marine Park late Tuesday morning while doing routine algae sampling.

"DEP responded but, for the most part, the fish are not recoverable and will become part of the nutrient cycle in the river," Hajna said.

Paul Bologna, Ph.D., Director of Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences at Montclair State University, said there are lots of reasons for the early season fish kill. "One might be that there was a collision of a boat(s) with the school of bunker. Not super unusual that you have a school of bluefish or stripers trapping the bait at the surface and then the fishing boats race to the scene to get in on the action," Bologna said. "The fish are jumping on the surface and the boats 'crash' into them stunning/killing some who then drift off with the tides and currents."

Last summer, hundreds of fish washed up off Great Bay along Osborn Island near Mystic Island in southern Ocean County, in Keansburg's Waackaaack Creek, in Keyport and the municipal harbor in Atlantic Highlands because of an unusually high number of bait fish.

Heavy equipment had to be used to remove the fish from the water and the beach, which was accompanied by a strong odor.

Townsquare Media's Laurie Cataldo contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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