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Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Assesses Widespread Death Of Fish Due To Winter Storm

Photo Courtesy TPWD

TPR's Jerry Clayton recently spoke with Shane Bonnot, advocacy director for the Texas Coastal Conservation Association, about the widespread fish kills on the Texas Coast during the recent winter storm.

Jerry Clayton: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is expected to release their report next week on the massive number of fish deaths that occurred along the Texas coast during the recent winter storm. How widespread is the impact along the Texas coast?

Shane Bonnot: The whole coast was affected, but for the large parts of Sabine in Galveston Bay, didn't see significant fish kills. However, when you get to east Matagorda Bay is when you really start to see the effects. And as you move down the coast, those effects are amplified. And certainly the lower Laguna Madre, it is quite evident that we had a significant event here.

Clayton: We know that Parks and Wildlife is just about to wrap up their assessment of the event. But from what you've seen, what species were most affected by the fish kill?

Bonnot: I mean, early on it was it was evident that this freeze was going to really devastate populations of Snook, Mangrove Snapper and Tarpon some of those those fish that that have taken advantage of these warmer winters that we've had here recently and more of our species, we see on a daily basis from a from a recreational anglers standpoint, obviously, speckled trout is number one on everybody's minds. They typically are the first to be affected by a cold weather event but you're going to see when the report comes out. I mean, you're going to see numerous species affected, Gafftop Sheepshead, some Red Drum, lots and lots of Speckled Trout and numerous, numerous bait fish, whether it be Croaker Striped Mullet, Perch, what have you. We'll see it across the board because of how long this freeze was, how long we were at critical temperatures for numerous species will. We'll see that reflected in this report.

Clayton: Do you feel like this is going to affect, number one, any of the regulations in the in the near term? And number two, how long would it take these fisheries to rebound?

Bonnot: It is quite possible. I would say highly likely that we would see some sort of management effort in response to to this to this freeze again now, because it didn't affect the entire coast. Whatever action that's taken will be reflective of that. I would suspect that if there was any action that it would be sort of a regional approach. That's just my anticipation. I don't know that for certain. But I think that that I think that because we had some areas of the Texas coast that were not impacted, that that things are likely to stay status quo for them. For as far as rebound is concerned, it really depends on the species, but what the one fish that's on everybody's mind is the Speckled Trout. And for that one, it will take a good three years before we start to see catch rates, get back to the level that we had prior to this freeze event.

Clayton: What about any commercial fishing operations? Do you feel like they may be affected as well?

Bonnot: Well, I think certainly in the upper Laguna Madre, the Baffin Bay Area, I've seen a lot of black drowned that were killed. The other popular commercial fishery that we have is the Southern Flounder. But we saw very few, if any, Southern Flounder affected by this event one because they're a little more cold hardy. And that, too, is because they were already in deeper water, because they had migrated to deeper waters to spawn late, late last year.

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Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.