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Fatal algae bloom killing fish around the Bay could last for weeks, officials say

Algae that forms toxic surface aggregations has been found near Dumbarton Bridge

A dead fish caught in branches along the banks of the Dumbarton Bridge Trail in Menlo Park on Aug. 31, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The red algae bloom in the San Francisco Bay killing hundreds, if not thousands, of fish since last week likely won't end for at least a couple weeks, as the warm weather gets hotter going into Labor Day weekend, according to experts.

Environmental agencies held a press conference Monday afternoon saying the bloom — which has been reported from the Dumbarton Bridge to Oakland's Lake Merritt and the Alameda Estuary, Oyster Point, Baywinds Park in Foster City, Hayward, Keller Beach, Point Molate, and Sausalito — may come from a harmful species called Heterosigma akashiwo.

It's a swimming marine algae that forms toxic surface aggregations. The species name is derived from "red tide" in Japanese.

"We do not know how long it's going to last," said Eileen White, the executive officer for San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board. "We're still studying it and monitoring it on a regular basis. Unfortunately, we have not seen an algae bloom of this particular species of this magnitude in San Francisco Bay ever before, that we know of.

"It's suspected it will probably last a couple weeks with the warm weather," White said. "Algae blooms usually happen in warm weather."

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The bloom was first observed in July in the Alameda/Oakland area. The algae may be impacting dissolved oxygen concentrations which could be contributing to the fish deaths.

Officials said it's unclear how toxic the bloom is. Crews of biologists are gathering information and fish necropsies are being scheduled.

They also don't have an accurate count of how many fish are dead; the official count as of Friday was at least 100 striped bass and less than 10 sturgeon and mussel deaths. There have also been reports of rays dying in Lake Merritt.

James Hobbs, Environmental Program Manager of the Bay Delta Region of the California Department of Fish and Game, said dozens of sturgeon have been killed — at least seven white sturgeon in San Pablo Bay — and at least hundreds of striped bass just between the San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges.

"Those numbers are probably gross undercounting of what's total in the bay," Hobbs said.

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White said it's the most dense algae bloom in the South Bay in more than 40 years.

Though Heterosigma akashiwo isn't known to cause illness in humans, it can cause eye and skin irritation and the water should be avoided, White said.

"We do know with warming climate we had the driest January through March on record," said White. "That that may have been a contributing cause, but we're not sure what the cause is."

No recommendations have been issued regarding eating fish caught in the by, though an annual quarantine regarding mussels along the California coast is now in place.

"This type of organism has been detected in San Francisco Bay before, but not to this level," said Jenna Rinde, senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We really don't understand mechanisms that's causing these fish kills."

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Fatal algae bloom killing fish around the Bay could last for weeks, officials say

Algae that forms toxic surface aggregations has been found near Dumbarton Bridge

by Tony Hicks / Bay City News Foundation /

Uploaded: Mon, Aug 29, 2022, 12:56 pm
Updated: Tue, Aug 30, 2022, 9:01 am

The red algae bloom in the San Francisco Bay killing hundreds, if not thousands, of fish since last week likely won't end for at least a couple weeks, as the warm weather gets hotter going into Labor Day weekend, according to experts.

Environmental agencies held a press conference Monday afternoon saying the bloom — which has been reported from the Dumbarton Bridge to Oakland's Lake Merritt and the Alameda Estuary, Oyster Point, Baywinds Park in Foster City, Hayward, Keller Beach, Point Molate, and Sausalito — may come from a harmful species called Heterosigma akashiwo.

It's a swimming marine algae that forms toxic surface aggregations. The species name is derived from "red tide" in Japanese.

"We do not know how long it's going to last," said Eileen White, the executive officer for San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board. "We're still studying it and monitoring it on a regular basis. Unfortunately, we have not seen an algae bloom of this particular species of this magnitude in San Francisco Bay ever before, that we know of.

"It's suspected it will probably last a couple weeks with the warm weather," White said. "Algae blooms usually happen in warm weather."

The bloom was first observed in July in the Alameda/Oakland area. The algae may be impacting dissolved oxygen concentrations which could be contributing to the fish deaths.

Officials said it's unclear how toxic the bloom is. Crews of biologists are gathering information and fish necropsies are being scheduled.

They also don't have an accurate count of how many fish are dead; the official count as of Friday was at least 100 striped bass and less than 10 sturgeon and mussel deaths. There have also been reports of rays dying in Lake Merritt.

James Hobbs, Environmental Program Manager of the Bay Delta Region of the California Department of Fish and Game, said dozens of sturgeon have been killed — at least seven white sturgeon in San Pablo Bay — and at least hundreds of striped bass just between the San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges.

"Those numbers are probably gross undercounting of what's total in the bay," Hobbs said.

White said it's the most dense algae bloom in the South Bay in more than 40 years.

Though Heterosigma akashiwo isn't known to cause illness in humans, it can cause eye and skin irritation and the water should be avoided, White said.

"We do know with warming climate we had the driest January through March on record," said White. "That that may have been a contributing cause, but we're not sure what the cause is."

No recommendations have been issued regarding eating fish caught in the by, though an annual quarantine regarding mussels along the California coast is now in place.

"This type of organism has been detected in San Francisco Bay before, but not to this level," said Jenna Rinde, senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We really don't understand mechanisms that's causing these fish kills."

Comments

Harold Sorenson
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 29, 2022 at 2:11 pm
Harold Sorenson, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Aug 29, 2022 at 2:11 pm

Turbulent storms churn the ocean in winter, adding nutrients to sunlit waters near the surface. This sparks a feeding frenzy each spring/summer that gives rise to massive blooms of phytoplankton.

Now whether these storms are the result of global warming/climate change is subject to debate as there are countless storms every winter, some harsher than others.

Massive algae blooms can deplete the water of oxygen and the result is dead fish.


Harold Sorenson
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 29, 2022 at 2:18 pm
Harold Sorenson, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Aug 29, 2022 at 2:18 pm

Forgot to mention that excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus can also generate algae blooms.

Agricultural and industrial runoffs are often the prime culprits.


StephenM
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 30, 2022 at 12:01 am
StephenM, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Aug 30, 2022 at 12:01 am

Well actually (speaking as someone who does physical oceanography for a living) the major natural input of nutrients (particularly N) in the coastal ocean comes from upwelling, which is caused by spring/summer winds and the earth's rotation. The major source of nutrients to South Bay and much of the rest of the Bay is sewage treatment plants. From the north, ag sources can also be important. Estimates of the breakdown of the contributions from various sources can be found in Web Link This article, authored by retired USGS scientist Jim Cloern, has some excellent discussion of the dynamics of phytoplankton (algae) in the Bay historically and potentially in the future.


Jake Garrand
Registered user
Mountain View
on Aug 30, 2022 at 7:07 am
Jake Garrand, Mountain View
Registered user
on Aug 30, 2022 at 7:07 am

Kelp is the largest form of oceanic algae.


Mimi Cassidy
Registered user
Midtown
on Aug 30, 2022 at 8:28 am
Mimi Cassidy, Midtown
Registered user
on Aug 30, 2022 at 8:28 am

Couldn't algae-eating fish be introduced to reduce these swells?


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