TPWD, guides assessing fish kills from Laguna Madre to Port O’Connor

HARLINGEN — Sub-freezing temperatures can take a toll on sportfish in the shallow Texas bay system, including the Laguna Madre.

This spate of cold weather is expected to be no different, and reports of fish kills from the Mexico border north to Port O’Connor are beginning to trickle in, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists say.

“We are starting to receive reports and we are starting to conduct assessments in the bay systems,” Alex Nunez, a regional biologist for TPWD who is on the Kills and Spills Region 4 team, said Monday. “We’ve got reports of Matagorda Bay down south to the U.S.-Mexico border. Pretty much Matagorda Bay south to the Lower Laguna.”

The 2 million acres of bays and estuaries in Texas are vulnerable to fish kills, with major ones occurring in 1983, which left an estimated 14 million fish dead, one in 1989 that killed an estimated 11 million fish and one in January 2018 which caused minor mortality among inshore saltwater fish species.

Fish in the Laguna Madre, like spotted sea trout and red and black drum, are susceptible to cold temperatures because the bay is so shallow, and fish have few places to find safe harbor in deep water, which stays warmer.

“We had a crew conducting assessments down in the Brownsville Ship Channel … and we’ve got staff that are heading out today and all week basically, going out there and conducting assessments in the Port Mansfield area and the Arroyo Colorado area, and all points in-between,” Nunez said.

Laguna Madre fishing guides say they haven’t been out in their boats since clients who had reservations were unable to make it down to the Valley due to power disruptions, or perhaps they lost the urge for fishing with temperatures in the 20s and 30s.

Capt. Grady John Deaton of Dos Gringos Fishing Charter said he has no first-hand knowledge of fish kills since he hasn’t been on the water, but he does say other guides have been out.

“The water temperatures got pretty bad,” Deaton said. “I’ve been hearing from some of the guides and what I’m getting is they’re still catching fish, so it didn’t kill them all. They’re probably going to be in deeper water, up in the Brownsville Ship Channel, and stuff like that.”

Capt. Jack Barton, who also guides on the Lower Laguna Madre, said he hasn’t been out on the water either to see things for himself, but he has received reports of fish kills from those who have.

“I hear there are some, quite a bit,” Barton said.

Report a fish kill 

If you see dead or dying fish and wildlife, or pollution threatening fish and wildlife, contact the TPWD Kills and Spills Team immediately. The Kills and Spills Team can be reached by calling 512-389-4848 or via email at  le.communications@tpwd.texas.gov

rkelley@valleystar.com