Beachgoers witness hundreds of dead fish along shoreline in Cherry Grove area

Updated: Sep. 12, 2020 at 8:17 AM EDT
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NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – Officials in North Myrtle Beach are looking into why a number of dead fish washed up on the beach.

The look, and smell, of the beach in Cherry Grove has returned to normal, but one pair of visitors said it wasn’t exactly how they dreamed of spending their last day of vacation.

“We came down to set the stuff up on the beach, and there were hundreds of fish," said vacationer Ben Caswell. "From as far as I could walk that way to as far as I could walk this way.”

Ben and Susan Caswell have come down to North Myrtle Beach for vacation each of the past several years.

Seeing a line of dead fish on the shore, was a first for them.

“The smell’s not very good either, especially when they started raking them and the smell from the tractor going by. It was pretty gross," said Caswell.

The city of North Myrtle Beach spent several hours going up and down the shore collecting the dead fish with a tractor.

“I was able to determine it was Atlantic menhaden," said Department of Natural Resources Assistant Marine Biologist Joey Ballenger. "That seems to be the only species that was effected is Atlantic menhaden.”

Ballenger said menhaden are a common, schooling fish all the way up and down the Atlantic Coast.

When he started seeing pictures of the issue, his first thought was to check the dissolved oxygen in the water.

“We have gauges on the Cherry Grove Pier and Apachee Pier monitoring the [dissolved oxygen], and at least at those locations, it does not appear that the dissolved oxygen got low enough to cause a mortality event," said Ballenger.

Ballenger added that if it was a dissolved oxygen issue, there’d likely be more than one species of fish affected.

He doesn’t know for sure what could have caused it, but he does have an idea.

“Potentially a troller or a fisherman offshore interacting with a large school," said Ballenger. "There could be a mortality event associated with that, and then washing up. I can’t say exactly what caused it for sure.”

While SCDNR doesn’t yet know exactly what caused the menhaden to die, Ballenger said they haven’t received any more reports since Friday morning of any more fish showing up on the shore.

Ballenger said the beach and water should be safe for beachgoers during the weekend.

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