Dozens of dead striped bass washed up on the shores of Great Pond and Waquoit Bay late last week, sparking concern among fishermen and residents. Scientists from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) have investigated and believe that the fish kill was related to a cinder worm spawning event in the area.
DMF fish biologist Benjamin Gahagan said that several days of intense feeding on the spawning worms is likely what caused the fish kill, possibly through an unknown toxic effect from consuming large quantities of the worms or from a physical effect caused by the worms clogging or injuring the stripers’ delicate gills. The dead fish the DMF observed had stomachs full of worms, and the worms were also found in the fish’s gills.
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Due to the fact that the fish kill only seemed to affect striped bass, and not any other species in the area like mummichogs, silversides, herring, or menhaden, it is not believed to be related to any water quality issues. DMF officials also looked at the fish for injuries related to fishing gear but found none.
Cinder worms are small aquatic worms that live in the mud of salt ponds and estuaries. Spawning events occur in spring, attracting newly arrived striped bass that are often targeted by fishermen.
Gahagan said that it appeared to be a one-time event that is not ongoing. If fresh-dead striped bass continue to appear, they would continue their investigation.