Thursday, February 17, 2011

Freeze Impacts hit Fish, Turtles along Entire Texas Coast

News Release – News Images

Media Contact: Steve Lightfoot, 512-389-4701,

Feb. 17, 2011

Freeze Impacts hit Fish, Turtles along Entire Texas Coast

AUSTIN – Preliminary assessments by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department coastal fisheries biologists suggest the damage from back-to-back freeze events that impacted marine life from Galveston to Brownsville could have been much worse.

Forecasts of prolonged sub-freezing temperatures along the Texas coast during the first week in February had biologists bracing for major fish kills the likes of which had not been seen in more than two decades. A second, less severe freeze wave hit the Texas coast less than a week later.

Coastal fisheries populations suffered devastating losses during three freeze events in the 1980s, with combined estimates of more than 30 million dead fish. In the aftermath of the freezes of 2011, TPWD officials are breathing collective sighs of relief. Based on early findings, the total numbers of fish impacted will be above that seen during 2010 (51,000 fish killed along the mid and lower coast), 2004 (35,000 fish killed in the lower Laguna Madre) and 1997 (200,000-300,000 fish killed in the upper and lower Laguna Madre) freezes, but lower than the three freezes in the 80s (1983 and two in 1989).

Biologists suggest the total impacts from this year’s fish kill in terms of numbers appear similar to the freeze of 1997, but the species makeup is drastically different. During 1997, spotted seatrout, black drum and red drum comprised roughly 75 percent of the impact. During this year’s freeze, it appears more than 85 percent of the impacted fish are non-recreational species, like silver perch, hardhead catfish, and mullet. Of the recreational species impacted this year, black drum appear to make up a larger component with spotted seatrout, red drum, sand seatrout, sheepshead, whiting, snook, gray snapper, Atlantic croaker and gag grouper making up a much smaller percentage.

“It could be that most fish had time to escape to deeper water before the freeze hit,” theorized Rebecca Hensley, TPWD coastal fisheries regional director. “We didn’t see the beaches covered in ice and very large numbers of dead fish like during the ‘80s freezes.”

Hensley also credits reduced mortality on game fish to conservation measures taken during the freeze, including a temporary fishing closure in deep water thermal refuges and voluntary stoppage of barge traffic in the lower Laguna Madre and through the land cut in the upper Laguna Madre.

“We appreciate the conservation ethic displayed by anglers during and immediately after the freeze when these fish were vulnerable,” said Robin Riechers, TPWD director of coastal fisheries. “It definitely helped reduce fish mortality.”

The recent freeze also saw a huge jump in the number of cold-stunned sea turtles recovered and the high survival rates. More than 1,500 sea turtles were recovered thanks to a massive network of volunteers and state and federal agency efforts.

“There were people out on the water gathering turtles immediately once the freeze hit and that made a huge difference,” said Riechers. “Turtle survival has been fairly high compared to previous freezes.”

In past years for similar coastal freezes, cold-stunned sea turtles in Texas have typically been held in captivity to recuperate for weeks until sea water temperatures rose. But two factors prompted Texas wildlife workers to return turtles to the wild faster this time. First, experts in Florida who’ve had similar recent experiences with cold-stunned turtles advised returning them to the water as soon as possible. Second, the sheer numbers of rescued turtles overwhelmed available facilities, so that many were on floors or wrapped in blankets, and experts say it’s better for them to return to water as soon as possible.

Within days of rescue, sea turtles were returned en masse with volunteers forming assembly-line chains to shuttle turtles down to the water’s edge on beaches near Corpus Christi and along the South Padre Island seashore.

Biologists say they won’t know the full impact to coastal fisheries from the freeze until annual sampling surveys are conducted later in the spring.

Photo Editors: Images associated with this news release are available on the TPWD Web site (


Friday, February 4, 2011

Galveston Bay Fish Kill Arctic Blast of 2011 ???

Galveston Bay Fish Kill Arctic Blast of 2011 ???

Saturday, February 05, 2011 7:25 PM

I sure hope there is not a major fish kill. it sure was warm just days before this Arctic express came roaring through, and believe it or not, the bait had come back up in here, there were some pelicans and gulls feeding on the bait last week when it was in the 70s. so, I imagine there were some specs and other fish up in here feeding. if I am not mistaken, it was that 83 freeze that took out the specs, and made the limit go from 20 to 10. the bay froze over too in 83 and 89.

water temp at Eagle point Thurs. was 46 degrees (F).

For spotted seatrout, water temperatures below about 45 degrees (F) become lethal. Red drum are a bit more hardy and can tolerate temperatures down to the mid-30's (F); flounder to the low 40's (F).

Water temp at Eagle Point Friday was 41 degrees (F).

Water temp today at Eagle Point today Sat. 42 degrees (F)

let's pray for a miracle. ...TSS

Freeze-triggered coastal fishing ban extended to Monday
Copyright 2011 Houston Chronicle Feb. 4, 2011, 6:38PM

Concerned about potential pillaging of speckled trout, redfish and other coastal game fish crowded into harbors, channels and other deep-water sanctuaries to escape frigid temperatures, state fisheries officials extended until noon, Monday, a closure of some areas along the coast to all fishing.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department had imposed the closure, which affects 21 locations along the coast, Wednesday when it became obvious the days-long siege of freezing or near freezing temperatures would drop inshore water temperatures to levels that would trigger fish to seek refuge in deeper, more insulated waters.

The ban had been set to expire at noon, Saturday.

"This freeze event has lasted longer than was projected earlier in the week and temperatures are not expected to get much above freezing today," said Robin Riechers, TPWD coastal fisheries division director. "We realize an extension through the weekend may inconvenience some anglers and we appreciate their patience and cooperation, but our primary concern is to give fish holding in those thermal refuges a chance to recover." ...

see the picture of Galveston Bay Froze over behind the house here in 1989.
UPDATE Monday February 7, 2011

Fish kill minimal along coast . Monday, 07 February 2011 11:19 Staff report .Relatively small numbers of dead fish have been reported along the Texas coast after a major cold front late last week. Photo by Patrick Thomas. Anglers and Texas Parks and Wildlife officials along the Texas coast are breathing easier this week after a massive cold front Thursday and Friday seemed to have spared many fish along the bays and Intracoastal Waterway.

Robin Riechers, TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division spokesman, characterized the weekend as “dodging a bullet.”

“That may not be what I’m saying Wednesday (after a flyover), but we are still counting dead game fish in the hundreds, which is amazing considering the cold,” he said. “The most notable kills occurred with pinfish, mullet and hardheads.”

Low tides the previous week and already-cold water help save a lot of fish killed because many of them had already moved to deeper water before the freeze hit.

“In past big events, the cold weather came on quick,” Riechers sad. “Having cold weather before the front, the fish were acclimated already. A lot of water was already shoved out of the bays (because of the low tides) and the barge traffic stoppage helped a lot.”

According to a TPWD memo, “many of the fish seen have been along the shoreline and are small (less than 6-10 inches in length). This weekend, additional fish species have been seen, but in low numbers. During field reconnaissance, the water clarity remains high and many fish were seen in canals beginning to come off the bottom (with their tails on the bottom and head in the water column). With the higher water temperatures, many of the dead fish in the deeper water are beginning to float.”

Mid-coast captain Scott Sommerlatte said he flew over the middle bays Sunday and counted several hundred dead trout, but called the fish kill “insignificant.”

“I think we escaped anything too terrible,” he said. “I saw a couple of really big trout, but not a single redfish. East Matagorda had most of the dead fish, but this wasn’t as bad as last year — not even close.”

A small snook kill was reported in the Lower Laguna Madre, but Capt. Eric Glass guided a redfish client Sunday along the southernmost tip of the coast and reported a great day of fly-fishing on the flats.