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Fish kill events caused by 2021 winter storm affecting tourism in Texas

Nearly 4 million fish lost
Posted at 8:59 PM, Mar 11, 2021

The loss of nearly four million fish along the coast of Texas is heavily impacting recreational fishers

The fish are accustomed to relatively warm temperatures. However, experts say the sudden drop in temperatures during Winter Storm Uri caused major fish kill events.

“The numbers that TPWD [Texas Parks & Wildlife] does estimate is close to four million fish across the full Texas coast,” said Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation, which works to conserve fish habitats in the region.

Temperatures tend to change a lot fast in more shallow waters, which is typically what you see along the coast.

”The faster that temperature drops, the less capable many of these fish species are at handling that physiologically,” explained Kirk Winemiller, Ecology and Conservation Biology professor at Texas A&M University.

The Galveston Bay area was able to squeeze by without much damage to their waters, only losing about 100 game fish.

”The reason there is that our waters frankly just have a bigger bay system. It’s a bigger bay system, and it takes longer for the water to cool down or heat up,” said Stokes.

According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, the Texas coast has become a top fishing destination for tourists. The fish kills are now discouraging those recreational activities.

The winter storm took out 61 species. The largest group lost was the spotted seatrout, followed by the black drum.

”The problem is maybe for one or two years, fishing just may not be as good as it was, and that may be enough to discourage quite a number of recreational fishers,” said Winemiller.

The last time the Texas coast experienced such an extreme fish kill like this was in the 80s when almost 32 million fish were killed.

“You know the fish stocks did recover fairly quickly in the 1980s from a series of winter fish kills,” Winemiller added.

The last recovery took about two to three years. Texas Parks & Wildlife is recommending fishers practice capture and release as much as they can as fish stocks attempt to recover.