Thousands upon thousands of anchovies were dying in the Port of Brookings Harbor Tuesday, a natural phenomenon that port officials say illustrate just how quickly oxygen can be used up in the water.

The timing of the mass die-off follows a recent donation of $14,080 to the port for a proposed aerator system project.

According to Port Manager Russ Crabtree, reports of the oxygen-deprived fish floating on the waters surface were received at his office around 11 a.m.

By mid-afternoon, the surface water in Basin No. 2 was becoming covered with dead anchovies, two-to-three feet deep in some places along the docks.

In the 14 years I have been here, Crabtree said, I have never seen anything like it.

Retired Brookings commercial fisherman Jim Welter said the phenomena hasnt occurred since 1968.

This is part of what happens when so many of the fish come in, he said Tuesday. They use up all the oxygen in the water.

This is just a sign of the natural productivity of the sea. People need to understand that.

Welter said commercial and recreational fishermen should reap the benefit of the large anchovy population.

It should be a good sign for the crab population, he said, and other fish populations should grow too.

Crabtree said there wasnt much the port could do to alleviate the presence of the dead fish. But, he added, the sea gulls seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Welter, representing the Oregon South Coast Fisherman, Cal/Ore Enhancement, and Friends of North Coast Fish, Inc., gave a $14,080 check to the Port board of commissioners during a noon meeting on May 22.

The project, estimated to cost $24,180, will place four aerators in the Sport Boat Basin at the port in an effort to clean up poor water quality in the area.

Excessive algae growth and accumulation of large algal mats, odor problems and periodic fish kills have occurred during low flow period from May to October in the basin. Those conditions have been attributed to poor basin flushing and circulation characteristics that result in stagnation, especially in the northern third section of the basin.

The installation of four aeration pump units in the basin is expected to alleviate the problem, according to Crabtree.

The health of the Chetco Estuary for fish and improvement of the water quality is a main concern for the Port of Brookings Harbor, he said. According to an Army Corps of Engineers study, installing the aeration system would be a benefit to both.

Crabtree said he hopes to start the installation of the aerators within the next 30 days. The project should be complete and operational within 60 days. Port personnel will install and maintain the units.