LACEY TOWNSHIP (AP) — More than 5,000 fish have died in a discharge canal at the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Lacey Township.

Oyster Creek nuclear plant (Excelon)

State officials say the menhaden may be drawn to the canal's warm water or are scared of a predator. But officials say there's little they can do.

Environmental Protection Department spokesman Larry Ragonese tells the Asbury Park Press officials would kill the fish if they tried to remove them or if they tried to divert them to the colder waters of Barnegat Bay.

Ragonese says they'll continue to die if the stay in the discharge canal.

In a statement, Oyster Creek spokeswoman Suzanne D’Ambrosio said, "Exelon Generation is working closely with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and an independent fish pathologist to better understand what caused the death of more than 5,000 Atlantic Menhaden in Oyster Creek's discharge canal."  A fish study conducted by the utility concludes that the deaths were caused by "large numbers of Atlantic Menhaden, a common bait fish known as bunker, are becoming stressed and dying as predatory fish drive them into colder waters. There is no indication that this environmental anomaly is the result of plant operations."

Rosetta Key contributed to this report

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