CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — After freezing temperatures lasted nearly a week last February, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) estimated 3 million fish died. Dr. Christopher Mace, director of fisheries enhancement program, said that's a conservative estimate, it was likely more.
"We do have a number of bays that have shown a decrease in abundance of spotted (speckled) sea trout particularly," said Mace. "We're not really showing much of an impact on the other game species. Red drum for example, black drum. There were impacts to those fish but it wasn't as serious for them."
Mace said they are not anticipating a large fish kill event with this week's cold temperatures. The temperatures, do however, deter fishermen from casting out.
“When the water does get this cold and the temperatures drop, the fish kind of get a little stunned and go into deeper water," Jesse Torres said, an avid fisherman. "So, it’s not easy but it’s easier to find them and some people take advantage of that. But there’s still fish to be caught and it’s still fun.”
TPWD has a few methods of limiting the impact to populations if weather events like these are expected.
One method is implementing bag and size limits of species for fishermen, like what was done for spotted sea trout. The bag limit was lowered in the summer of 2021 from five to three. The size limit is 17 to 23 inches.
“We have our regular monitoring program and bag and size limits which help to maintain a healthy fish population, that's resistant to temporary environmental impacts like this" said Mace. "Number two, we do have the authority when we see an issue to further reduce or temporarily stop fishing all together. And we have the fisheries enhancement program, which puts fish back in the water which gives a jump start to the recovery.”
Mace said his facility released 5 million sea trout after the freeze event. On average, they will release 20 to 25 million fingerlings in a year.
Torres also owns Jesse Torres Guide Service. So, he said he's seen how the bag and size limit change has made fishermen adjust.
“When they cut the limit to three trout per person a lot of people did cancel and change their plans with fishing guides especially," he said. "So, we had to overcome and adapt and chase more red fish, more drum. Throughout the year we saw more and more trout come back and the population seems to be increasing. But then again, they will cut the limits again this year.”
Mace said the plan is the spotted sea trout limits will extend for two years, to speed up the population recovery.
“We have gone forward with a proposal because of recent data collected from our spring gillnets of last year and fall gillnets of last year, of 2021, showed a decline in spotted sea trout abundance in more than just the lower laguna," said Mace.
TPWD asks you to report fish kills by calling 512-389-4848 or online here.
To report cold stunned sea turtles, you can call 1-866-TURTLE 5 OR 1-866-887-8535.