, Port Arthur, Texas

January 9, 2014

Chester Moore column: Freeze brings Sabine fish kill concerns

Chester Moore
The Port Arthur News




    The cold weather that hit Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana earlier in the wee brought with it concerns of freeze-related fish kills.

    Anglers that remember the huge freeze related fish kills of 1983 and 1989 are concerned the current cold weather could produce a similar situation. Some 11 million fish were killed in 89 when the temperature plummeted to 16 as far south as Brownsville.

    In 2011, we reported officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) used power given to them by the legislature to temporarily shut down fishing in the Entergy Canal on the Neches River along with numerous areas along the coast.

    "The high mortality that a freeze can cause may deplete fish stocks for years," said Robin Riechers, director of TPWD’s Coastal Fisheries Division.               

      "Protection of the surviving fish during the few days when they are especially vulnerable to capture would likely shorten the time period for overall recovery of coastal species, especially spotted sea trout."

     Fast-moving fronts in particular are the ones that can cause major damage. The one that hit earlier in the week came in gradually.

     “The biggest problem with cold kills is the speed in which the temperatures drop fast, and fish become cold stunned and can't move ahead of it. Their proximity to deep water also plays a role. If fish are a long ways from a ship channel they can get caught with a fast approaching cold front,” said TPWD biologist Lance Robinson.

    Speckled trout, can perish in water below 45 degree while redfish are hardier and can take temperatures down to the mid-30s. Flounder (most of which are in the Gulf right now) can handle waters down to the lower 40s.

    “In addition to killing game fish in shallow bay waters, a hard freeze can also cause surviving fish to congregate in a few deeper areas where they become sluggish or "cold stunned" and prone to capture,” Robinson said.

    There are records of people catching large numbers of trout in landing nets and taking advantage of the fishery in what can only be described as very greedy ways. That is why laws have been put into place to protect the fishery during certain periods.

    There are some other things to consider in relation to freeze-related kills. The last 25 have seen warming trends in Texas bays that have allowed mangrove snapper to migrate and establish populations as far north as Sabine Lake.

    TPWD officials said the reason no bag or size limits have been put on the species is that a big freeze would immediately knock them back down to their “normal” range of the Coastal Bend southward.

    The same thing could happen to snook, which are sensitive to warm temperatures and have been moving northward although not as far as the mangrove snapper.

   In 2011, freezes in Florida killed an estimated seven percent of the state’s snook population. There is a chance Texas’ snook fishery could face a severe setback with a major freeze situation.

    Freezes are a part of the natural cycle but they can make things difficult for anglers who must face fishing in the wake of the immediate damage they do. Hopefully the coast will dodge a freeze-related kill this year but in all likelihood there will at least be a localized kill on the horizon.

    Two years ago thousands of redfish will killed when they got trapped behind the weirs at the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge on Lake Calcasieu. There are frequently kills on a much smaller scales as different areas, particularly those impacted somehow by man are affected in different ways.

    We will be keeping an eye on things this winter and will keep you informed on what is going on with the health of our important fishery.

(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at . You can watch him Saturdays at 10 a.m. on “God’s Outdoors with Chester Moore” on GETV/ and listen to him Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.)