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Australian salmon death mystery
Victoria Young & Crystal Fairbairn

The Esperence Express

24th June 2004

Blue Haven beach was awash with dead and dying Australian salmon on Tuesday morning after a large, distressed school of the fish ventured into the bay.

About 50 dead fish lined the shore. The school was about 20 metres from the beach.

The fish behaviour is unheard of in Esperance by fishermen and long-term residents.

Representatives from the Esperance offices of the departments of Fisheries and Conservation and Land Management assessed the scene on Tuesday morning.

Samples were taken by senior Fisheries officer Ken Gittins and were being analysed by the fish health laboratory in South Perth yesterday afternoon.

A Fisheries spokesperson said the time it took to determine the reason for the fish deaths depended on whether the problem could be determined visually or if further pathology needed to be completed.

Mr Gittins said at this stage he couldn't explain why the fish had died.

CALM wildlife officer Les Coyne said he had not seen anything like this before, in his time in Esperance, though last year he saw hundreds of dead black bream at Woody Lake.

"They (the fish) don't look like they have been attacked. Whether it's shock or stress or something, I don't know," Mr Coyne said.

Jerry Sanders, who has been a fisherman in the area for 25 years, was at Blue Haven and said that he had never seen this sort of thing.

Mr Sanders said it looked like the fish in the water were starving of oxygen and estimated there was about 10 tonnes of fish in the water.

Passer-by Peter Biven said that he had been out bike riding when he saw the fish and went down onto the beach to have a closer look.

He said that it was rather distressing to see all the dead fish.

Veteran seaman Don Mackenzie, who was a fisherman for about 40 years and has been in Esperance since the late 1940s, told The Express yesterday that he was shocked to hear the fish had died and had not heard of that happening in Esperance in his time.

"I don't like it at all," Mr Mackenzie said.

"I hope they find out what's the matter because it doesn't sound too good."

Mr Mackenzie said he had often seen salmon in large groups close to the shoreline along The Esplanade when they migrated from east to west in the summer months, but he had not seen them for a number of years.

He said the salmon kept close to the shoreline during migration to keep away from predators such as dolphins and sharks.