Mother Nature’s Wrath

Everett Johnson

It has finally come to pass, we've been beating the odds for almost a decade and a half but it appears as though our luck may have run out. Mother Nature reminds us once again who is in charge with her cold shoulder. History says the Texas coast receives a deep freeze every seven years or so and this would have made our twenty-first winter without one.

It is Sunday evening, January 10, and Texas A&M's monitoring station just north of the ICW in San Antonio Bay has been reporting seawater temperatures at or below 42 F for more than 48 hours and likely will not rise above this mark until some time tomorrow. Readings taken in the Seadrift harbor have indicated even colder temperatures in the shallows. My biologist friends at Coastal Fisheries say there is no magic temperature that will produce a fish kill but bad things start to happen when the water temp falls below 42F.

The extent of the fish kill, especially our coveted seatrout, will not be known for several days as many fish succumb and sink, not to be seen until the water warms. Concerned anglers and duck hunters are reporting dead fish in the Matagorda Island lakes and I expect the same might be true anywhere between Galveston and Corpus Christi where fish, especially trout, were trapped in shallow water. This is bad news anyway you look at it for our mid-coast trout fishery. I have yet to receive reports of dead or cold-stunned redfish. Coastal Fisheries will be surveying the situation and we should receive more definitive information mid-week.

I have written about the mid-coast seatrout decline in this column several times over the past year. I have been encouraging greater conservation through catch and release with our "Just Keep Five" campaign since 2005. And even though that slogan graces the lower margin of the pages of this even this issue, (some pages already gone to the printer); I think JK5 is done, faded into obsolescence as a tool to encourage conservation.

Reducing bag limits on Texas' most popular saltwater gamefish is not an easy task or it would have been enacted seven years ago. Ask Hal Osburn.

As Director of Coastal Fisheries in 2002, Hal embarked on a novel concept of pro-active fisheries management he called Spotted Seatrout Work Group. By advising the public of the early signals, Hal hoped to stave off a more serious decline. I remember Hal saying, "the greater the spawning biomass before the freeze, the greater the number that will survive, and the best scenario for quick recovery."

The general fishing public didn't understand Hal's message, and when a legion of outdoor scribes ripped it to shreds it crashed and burned. So here we sit, almost eight years later, with a declining fishery dying or at least struggling in icy water. What can we do?

For openers, I am calling for even greater conservation of spotted seatrout. Until we can understand the full impact, I say, "Just Keep None!" That's right; we can all munch on something else for a while. Fried trout is being removed from the menu here at the Johnson Ranch and I'm asking you to join the team.

I have great faith in TPWD's Coastal Fisheries Division from Austin all the way through the staff at each field station to make a good decision here. They're going to be out there gathering data over the next several days and then crunching numbers for several more. God forbid their findings will require emergency conservation measures, I'm praying it won't come to that. But should they find reason to entertain reduced bag limits and schedule public scoping meetings to discuss the matter, I implore that you attend and listen carefully. Our mid-coast spotted seatrout fishery needs your helping hand.