Massive Aerator Aims to Combat Dead Fish Stink at Howard Beach

The stink of dead fish has troubled neighborhood residents for decades.

By Roseanne Colletti
|  Monday, Feb 27, 2012  |  Updated 9:04 PM EDT
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Every summer for at least 20 years, an awful smell has taken over the Howard Beach area. It's a smell that has some Queens residents furious, but now there could be a solution to clear the air. Roseanne Colletti reports.

NBC New York

Every summer for at least 20 years, an awful smell has taken over the Howard Beach area. It's a smell that has some Queens residents furious, but now there could be a solution to clear the air. Roseanne Colletti reports.

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Residents of Howard Beach have long complained about the putrid stink of dead fish that suffocates their neighborhood each summer as schools of bluefish and striped bass die en masse in the stagnant waters of Shellbank Basin.

This summer, they may finally have some relief.

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection finished work on a $3.5 million machine designed to prevent the mass die-offs by pumping compressed air through nearly 4,000 feet of tubing across the basin floor, operating more or less like a giant aerator in a fish tank.

The compressor is an improved incarnation of a smaller version that failed to combat the smell in 2008, when more than 10,000 fish carcasses clogged the basin.

The smell was so strong that summer that Joseph Decandia halted outdoor dining at his waterfront restaurant Lenny's Clam Bar.

"You could actually walk across the water, that's how many dead fish were on the bay," said Decandia. "It was disgusting."

Though 2008 proved extreme in terms of fish carnage, scientists say the layout of Shellbank Basin is naturally deadly to fish because of a phenomenon called temperature stratification, reports the New York Times.

The mouth of the waterway is significantly shallower than its end, which prevents the basin's waters from mixing properly.

Fish that swim down from Jamaica Bay in search of food end up suffocating in the stagnant inlet waters, contributing to a stench that forces waterfront restaurant owners to shut down their patios in summer and sends residents fleeing to relatives’ or friends’ pools elsewhere.

That is where the aerator comes into play: the big blue and white structure resembling a shipping container will attempt to stop the stench and save the fish. It was installed this month by the Department of Environmental Protection.

The project was paid for entirely by a Department of Environmental Protection fund supported by the money New Yorkers pay to use city sewer and water utilities, reports the Times.

"It's worked in other areas of the city, and we expect it to work here," State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., a Democrat who represents Howard Beach, told NBC New York.

"Stinky socks would be good compared to what that smelled like," resident Tina Scerbo said, recalling the stench of 2008.  "Let's hope that little gizmo there is making things better for all of us that live here."

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