Bunker, Bunker Everywhere

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There has been a lot of speculation about exactly how many bunker died in the Shinnecock Canal last week, and then spread out in stinking floes of rotten slime across Shinnecock Bay and up and down the ocean beaches east and west of the inlet.Is there a way to really know? No. I’ve read other publications that have refused to say more than “tens of thousands” and chuckled at the folly of saying that it was less than a million individuals. A million is only a thousand thousands. The question should be, how many thousands of thousands were there?

I had to walk across a ribbon of the rotters 5 feet wide and running several hundred feet in either direction along the southern shore of Shinnecock Bay the other day, on the way to cut blind grass. There was a spot where a depression in the marsh had captured a small circle of the dead carcasses maybe 3 feet in diameter. I decided to count how many were in just that tiny section.

It took a good five minutes of kicking them away one at a time to get to 164. It was like a clown car—you’d move one, and there’d be another one you hadn’t seen.

At that density, a quick estimate of the length of just the line of them in that one tiny area of shoreline would mean there were a few hundred thousand individuals.

So if someone tells you they think it was four million or five million individual bunker that died that morning in the canal, don’t scoff—they’re probably about on target.

And what’s amazing is how many bunker remained in the bay, alive, following the die-off. On Saturday, the entire East Cut of Shinnecock Bay, a solid half-mile stretch, was stuffed with bunker 10 feet deep. Millions more.

It’s a testament to the power of Mother Nature’s approach to survival in numbers. I’m sure we will be hearing calls for increases to the amount of bunker that may be harvested by the industrial bunker seins that used to work up and down the East Coast. I hope those calls are resisted as our government skews away from environmental conservation and back toward the business side of interests in the next couple of years.

Bass and bluefish were easy pickings most of the week, and a few bass in the teens and 20-pound class mixed in with the mostly rats over the weekend around Shinnecock Inlet.

It looked as though most of the bunker were heading out and west with the snow on Sunday night. There is hope that fish still lingering along the North Fork and Rhode Island coastline will put in a showing in the next few weeks. I don’t know how much we should expect to see from the herring run, either in terms of numbers of herring or of striped bass feeding on them.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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