Nearly 3.8 million fish killed along Texas Coast during winter storm

Red tide season usually lasts from October to around February, but the current red tide has stayed along the coast for around 10 months, killing massive amounts of fish as well as sea turtles, manatees and a whale shark swimming in the area. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Red tide season usually lasts from October to around February, but the current red tide has stayed along the coast for around 10 months, killing massive amounts of fish as well as sea turtles, manatees and a whale shark swimming in the area. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Texas – Millions of fish along the Texas Coast were killed during the winter storm, according to the Texas and Wildlife Department.

An estimated minimum of 3.8 million fish were killed during the Feb. 2021 freeze event. According to the Texas and Wildlife Department, the massive fish kill consisted of at least 61 species. Non-recreational species contributed to 91% of the total mortality in numbers of fish. This includes species like Silver Perch, Hardhead Catfish, Pinfish, Bay Anchovy and Striped Mullet.

“If fish do not make it to a refuge in deeper, more temperature stable water during cold weather, they may die when water temperatures reach a certain threshold,” the department said. “After the first fish kill was reported in the Lower Laguna Madre, Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists began the process of assessing kills across multiple bay systems on the coast.”

During the winter storm, the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre bay systems were hit especially hard, with the latter having the highest deaths of spotted seatrout with an estimated 104,000 fish killed. Likewise, the Upper Laguna Madre experienced black drum mortality at an estimated 82,600 fish killed.

While this is not the first freeze to occur in Texas coastal waters, it is the worst freeze-related coastal fish kill the state has experienced since the 1980′s, according to Carter Smith, the executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“There are some important lessons from those historical events that we need to draw upon as we work to accelerate the recovery of our fish stocks, particularly speckled trout along the mid and lower coast,” Smith said. “The most obvious, and immediate one for speckled trout is conservation, a practice where every Texas coastal angler can make a contribution right now.”

Smith also added that practicing catch and release and/or keeping fewer fish to take home in areas like the Laguna Madre will give the habitat more fish to rebuild from as the department improves populations through its hatchery efforts, and cautiously assesses what regulation changes may be needed to cultivate a speedier recovery for Texas bays.