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Thousands of fish dead after freeze, fishermen concerned about economic impact

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Dead fish in the marina on Port Isabel Tuesday. (KVEO)

PORT ISABEL, Texas (KVEO) – The effects of last week’s winter storm continue to show up along the Texas coast, as thousands of dead fish are scattered around beaches and marinas.  

Sea turtles were in the spotlight last week as thousands washed ashore cold-stunned, but fish were in the mix too.  

Fish that were in shallow waters at the time of the freeze are now floating belly up and washed ashore everywhere from Boca Chica Beach up to Port Mansfield.  

The number of dead fish is astonishing, but nothing we have not seen before.  

Dead fish in a Port Isabel marina. (KVEO)

Capitan Charlie Guillen is a fisherman and runs the Facebook page Boca Chica Beach Legends. He recently posted a photograph of his vehicle amongst a pile of fish that died after the freeze in 2004; the first year it snowed in the Rio Grande Valley in 110 years.  

“We saw massive fish kill,” said Guillen. “We have some photos of huge piles of mullet, snook, Atlantic spadefish, just a lot of species of fish that we saw washing up in certain areas.” 

Many fishermen took advantage of the larger fish seeking warmer waters after the cold snap. 

But with masses of smaller baitfish dead along the shores and larger game fish being fished out of the waters, some like Guillen are concerned for the ecosystem.  

“I decided I’m going to sit back a little bit and kind of watch the way things are going,” said Guillen.  

After seeing numerous videos of fish kills filmed by his followers, he said he will conserve what’s left by only taking what will be eaten, and that practicing catch and release may be beneficial to the fisheries. 

Jason Ferguson with Texas Parks and Wildlife Coastal Fisheries Division told KVEO in a statement that they are still working on assessing the situation.  

“We currently are in the process of assessing the fish kill that has occurred as a result of the freeze event last week.  Our department has had staff out on the water all week to systematically assess all parts of the Texas coast, including the lower Laguna Madre.  Once we have had a chance to examine all the areas of the bay, we will be able to analyze the data to come up with an estimate of total fish mortality.  Then we will have an idea of how this fish kill compares to previous ones from past freeze events.” 

Some fishermen cannot take a break from fishing so easily.  

Capitan George Strader owns George’s Fishing Charter Services and earns his living by taking people out to fish.  

Strader said his clients have had no problem catching fish in the past week, but the perception that there are none left has people canceling.  

“We understand what happened and what is happening. So, we are going to promote releasing some of the fish and if they want to release them all, that would be great. But at the same time if they want to keep some and stay within the state limits that are set out there, it’s going to be okay as well,” said Strader.  

Until TPW releases their report, it will be difficult for fisheries to tell the how big impact will be.

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