Fisherman focuses on one simple clue after stumbling upon sprawling beach mystery

Pollution and the weather aren't likely to blame for the hundreds of dead fish suddenly found on 90 Mile Beach on Australia's southern coast.

Fisherman Steve Hompot looking to camera shocked. He's on 90 Mile Beach and wearing a Bunnings shirt and a cap. He has a goatee.
Fisherman Steve Hompot was left shocked after finding hundreds of dead fish on 90 Mile Beach. Source: Steve Outdoors

Thousands of dollars worth of dead fish have been discovered rotting on a remote Aussie beach. While determining the cause would ordinarily be a challenge, investigators believe they have the answers thanks to one simple clue — they were all from a single species and about the same size.

The salmon were found on Victoria’s 90 Mile Beach, a cluster of holiday towns that are popular during summer months with tourists, but quiet over winter. News of the disturbing find spread on Sunday after video of the incident was uploaded to social media by a local fisherman.

Wearing a cap and a Bunnings flannelette shirt, a clearly shocked Steve Hompot turns to his camera and says "What on earth is going on?"

There's a further dark turn when he notices a little penguin is also dead on the beach.

Speaking to Yahoo on Tuesday, Steve recalled counting hundreds of dead fish across 200 metres of sand. “It was very disturbing. I just couldn't believe how many there were. There were so many fish – what a waste,” he said.

Steve has also heard several other reports of dead fish and penguins at nearby towns. But the carnage he documented at a spot between Paradise Beach and Loch Sport alone is the worst mass kill he’s witnessed in his decades of fishing. “My dad first took me fishing back in the 1970s and I’ve been doing it regularly all that time,” he said. "But I've never seen anything like this."

Related: Footprints on quiet beach lead to never before seen discovery

Dead fish from a distance.
Fish could be seen lying across 200 metres of sand. Source: Steve Outdoors
Close up of a dead fish. Inset shows a little penguin.
Sadly, the body of a little penguin was also found. Source: Steve Outdoors

Locals and internet sleuths inundated him with theories. Some suspected a lightning strike, but that was ruled out because the weather had been relatively calm.

Others thought the water may have been poisoned, so Victoria’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) sent officers to the beach on Monday.

It's understood they didn't find any penguins, but there were plenty of dead similarly-sized salmon still on the beach. After officers carried out their testing, both the dead fish and the water came back as being free of pollutants.

Fish will often die due to changes in water temperature or low dissolved oxygen after a rainstorm or bushfire, but the EPA appears to have ruled out these events. What offered investigators the clearest lead is that the fish are not only the same species but also roughly the same size.

The EPA findings were reported back to the Victorian Fisheries Authority which has linked the find to commercial trawlers seen in the area, taking advantage of this season's plentiful stocks.

“There is no evidence to suggest it was a natural event and we can confirm there was commercial fishing activity in the area early last week,” an Authority spokesperson said. “Although unusual, some fish caught by commercial fishers offshore, escape or spill from the net in the process of their capture and loading onto a vessel while at sea, and can wash ashore days later.”

A map of 90 Mile Beach with a red circle around the spot where the fish were found.
The fish were discovered in between Loch Sport and Paradise Beach on a stretch of coast called 90 Mile Beach. Source: Google Earth/AirBus/Data SIO/NOAA

This outcome wasn't surprising to Steve. “I kind of suspected straight away that it might be from the trawler because the fish are all the same size, and that’s what nets do. Anything smaller can get through the nets, and it only catches a particular sized fish. And that explains the penguin as well — it has the same girth,” he said.

Yahoo has contacted industry body Seafood Industry Victoria to ask whether it believes the event can be linked to a commercial fishing boat.

Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.