The Texas Trout Fishery is in Great Shape. But What Threats Do Our Specks Face, and What is Being Done to Avoid Them?
SPECKLED TROUT ARE doing great in Texas.
Angler catchrates are high and the quality of the fishery is considered strong pretty much across the board.
But are there potential threats on the horizon?
The answer is yes and this year’s huge toxic algae event in Florida has raised many questions.
Let’s start with toxic algae or “red tides” first.
This is from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
“Red tide is a naturally-occurring, higher-than-normal concentration of the microscopic algae Karenia brevis (formerly Gymnodinium breve).”
“This organism produces a toxin that affects the central nervous system of fish so that they are paralyzed and cannot breathe. As a result, red tide blooms often result in dead fish washing up on Gulf beaches. When red tide algae reproduce in dense concentrations or “blooms,” they are visible as discolored patches of ocean water, often reddish in color.”
So what causes these outbreaks?
“Red tide is a natural phenomenon not caused by human beings. When temperature, salinity, and nutrients reach certain levels, a massive increase in Karenia brevis algae occurs. No one knows the exact combination of factors that causes red tide, but some experts believe high temperatures combined with a lack of wind and rainfall are usually at the root of red tide blooms.
There are no known ways that humans can control it, but many scientists around the world are studying red tide at present. It’s important to remember that red tide has happened before and the Texas marine environment has always recovered.”
They can kill trout and other species.
Freezes are another issue entirely.
In fact, in 2005, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials adopted rules to protect game fish in coastal waters in the event of a freeze.
According to then TPWD coastal fisheries director Larry McKinney, Ph.D. Texas has about two million acres of bays and estuaries that are susceptible to freezes. He said that there were three major freezes during the 1980s, including one in 1989 when the temperature at Brownsville dropped to 16 degrees, for example, and an estimated 11 million fish were killed.
“Historically, freezes along the Texas coast have occurred about every 15 years and TPWD is taking proactive steps to try and minimize the impact to the fishery.”
We are overdue.
TPWD went on to say in addition to killing game fish in shallow bay waters, a hard freeze can also cause surviving fish to congregate in a few deeper areas where they become sluggish and prone to capture.
“The high mortality that a freeze can cause may deplete fish stocks for years, according to McKinney. Protection of the surviving fish during the few days when they are especially vulnerable to capture would likely shorten the time period for overall recovery of coastal species, especially spotted sea trout.”
The commission action authorizes the TPWD executive director to close areas affected by freeze events until the freeze event is over. The executive director would provide adequate notice to the public regarding the closing of affected areas and similarly publicize the reopening of those areas to fishing when the freeze condition has passed. These closures would be limited to the deeper areas where fish are known to congregate in freezes and would end as soon as possible.
It is not only to protect trout but trout were one of the hardest hit species during the last two major freeze incidents.
A more insidious threat to trout cannot be seen.
The Galveston Bay area has official warnings on the consumption of speckled trout in large portions of the ecosystem. Danielle Sonnier and TFG Editor-In-Chief Chester Moore have written on this issue in previous years.
According to the World Health Organization, dioxins are environmental pollutants. They belong to the so-called “dirty dozen” a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants.
“Once dioxins enter the body, they last a long time because of their chemical stability and the ability to be absorbed by fat tissues, where they are stored in the body.”
According to the EPA, dangerous amounts of dioxin concentrations have been found in samples collected from the submerged portion of the original 1966 waste ponds near the San Jacinto River.
Biologist Scott Jones with the Galveston Bay Foundation said many potential pollutants can run off from land surrounding the bays, but dioxin is the worst.
“Paper mill wastes are a problem because when you bleach paper, you use chlorine and you end up making dioxin, a persistent organic chemical that has some really bad properties that can cause cancer and a variety of different illnesses,” Jones said.
“It can cause developmental problems in the unborn or the young. It is known as the worst toxic chemical out there.”
Starting in the mid-1960s, barges would dispose paper mill waste into the San Jacinto River at the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site, an area of about 15 acres, according to Jones.
“Not only did we have these open pits that were subject to the waste getting out when it was hit by high river flow from the San Jacinto River, starting in the early 70s, about half of that pit was going literally into the water,” he said.
“Ultimately, the fish and shrimp and crab and other seafood have been exposed to this dioxin for 50 years now.”
As a result, dioxins are one of the reasons there are seafood consumption limitations in parts of Galveston Bay, Jones explains.
“If you’re catching speckled trout, well they’ve been eating smaller fish or they’ve been eating shrimp or other animals that have been eating small animals, and those animals originally were down in the waste eating little organisms and they’re taking in that dioxin,” he said.
After decades of exposure to the waste, aquatic life has inevitably ingested and absorbed dioxin at levels that are dangerous to humans for consumption. Texas Department of State Health Services monitors seafood and administers the seafood advisories. They say the driving factor is the amount of fat in the organisms, according to Jones.
“These types of chemicals reside in the fatty tissue. Animals that have more fat in their tissues are going to have more dioxin or any other toxin,” he said. “That’s why not all fish in most of the bay have advisories. That’s why you don’t have redfish listed or flounder listed.”
This article was to keep you informed, not frightened. We want our readers to not be taken by surprise when things happen with our fisheries and wildlife resources and to know sometimes bad things happen.
And that as you can see with the information provided about the freezes of the past, the fishery can come back.
CURRENT RED TIDE STATUS IN TEXAS
—story by CHESTER MOORE