"thousands of fish called marsbancken"
Fisheries experts tend to distinguish between bunker kills and the fish kills of July 1987, when a dozen or more species of fish and crustaceans were killed in the Sound because of a fast and severe drop in dissolved oxygen concentrations. The big fish kills were clearly pollution-related; the bunker kills probably are not.
Why do I say that? For one thing, bunker kills have been occurring in coastal waters and estuaries for a long time. In 1679 a Dutchman visiting Staten Island reported:
“Lying rotting upon the shore were thousands of fish called marsbancken, which are about the size of a common carp. These fish swim close together in large schools, and are pursued so by other fish that they are forced upon the shore in order to avoid the mouths of their enemies, and when the water falls they are left there to die, food for the eagles and other birds of prey."
About 150 years later, Henry David Thoreau was living on Staten Island with William Emerson, Ralph Waldo’s brother. He spent a lot of time exploring the beaches and also observed a mossbunker or menhaden kill. (Thoreau and Walt Whitman, by the way, spelled it ‘moss bonkers.’)
There’s no telling whether we’ll see any fish kills in the Sound this summer. But if we do, it’s important to recognize the bunker kills for what they are and to not act as if the Sound were dying simply because something that was witnessed 326 years ago is happening again.