SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) --For the second year in a row, Santa Cruz Harbor has been inundated by dead anchovies and it's creating a clean-up headache. If they don't act fast, the stench will be overwhelming.
SUP Shack operator Trudy Ransom has launched a personal campaign to skim the dead anchovies with a broken net.
"Well, it's a bucket at a time, and once I clear up a bucket, I come back in an hour, and they will still be back here again. There's just millions of them," Ransom said.
A huge school of anchovies swam into the harbor around sunset Wednesday. They were seeking shallow water to avoid being eaten by whales and other predators and the sheer number quickly depleted the oxygen supply. Anchovies then die and sink. As they decay, they float to the surface.
"It's just sad," said visitor Ian Wall of Oregon.
This is the fifth mass anchovy die-off in 50 years in Santa Cruz. The most recent was last October, when tons of dead fish had to be scooped up and hauled away at a cost that topped $10,000.
Seabirds have flocked to the harbor to gorge themselves. Some harbor seals have gotten the word too. A clean-up is crucial because the stench of rotting anchovies will be overwhelming.
"There's a lot of them around the bottom, and what'll happen is as they decay, it's actually going to kill more because the decay process takes oxygen, so it probably will get a little bit worse," said Kurt Grutzmacher of Santa Cruz.
The harbor did install aerators to oxygenate the water and try to prevent these fish kills, but they didn't help.
"They have the aerators on as far back as they can go, and I think it definitely helps, but if there's too many fish, there's only so much air we can force into the water. If there's just too many, we can't keep up," said Marina Maze of Save Our Shores.
An army of volunteers is being formed to show up in the morning to scoop up the dead anchovies. The process is expected to take five days.
Meanwhile, the dead anchovies are causing another problem. Santa Cruz County health officials are warning that bacteria levels have exceeded safe levels for swimmers at three beaches because of the large number of seabirds feeding on the dead fish.