Volunteers Clean Up Rotting Fish from Belmar Beach
Wanted: People willing to pick up stinking dead fish for free.
The call that Belmar officials put out Thursday night on social media didn't put it that bluntly, but that was the reality 20 volunteers faced Friday morning as they turned out to help this popular tourist town clean up after a massive fish kill earlier in the week.
"I'm a beach brat," said Helene Cappello of Belmar. "I've been coming to this beach since I was 2. It just seems like the right thing to do."
She was undaunted by the stench of rotting fish that had residents five blocks inland keeping their windows shut.
"I had a boat in Point Pleasant once, and we'd take people out fishing on it," she said. "I would bring my lunch. I'd have a liverwurst and onion sandwich in one hand, and the bait bucket in the other hand. So the smell doesn't bother me."
Friday's cleanup came four days after a massive fish kill in the Shark River left thousands of dead moss bunker on the sand. Officials believe depleted oxygen levels, possibly due to an algae bloom, killed the fish.
Mayor Matt Doherty says that since Monday, borough work crews have removed 30 tons of dead fish from the beaches. A front-end loader deposited even more into an industrial metal trash receptacle Friday morning.
"It's gratifying to see people come out to help us clean up after this bizarre wave of dead fish," he said. "You can be sure that this will all be gone by Memorial Day weekend and Belmar's beaches will be in great shape."
The volunteers ranged from senior citizens to college students. Some came from towns 45 minutes away to help.
Victor Corallo of Belmar was one of the first to arrive for the cleanup, having smelled them for four days.
"The quicker we get rid of them, the quicker they stop stinking," he said. "The only time I like fish is with a little garlic on 'em."
The fish on the beach and bobbing in the surf provided a buffet for seagulls, which swarmed the Shark River Inlet to gorge themselves on the dead bunker, also known as menhaden.
John Maguire, Belmar's public works superintendent, handed out plastic gloves and bags to volunteers before they began collecting the dead fish.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed and hoping the locusts don't come next," he said.
Volunteer Christine Hanley filled a few bags as she walked along the shoreline.
"It's going to be a long, long time before I eat fish again," she said.
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