Commission Agenda Item No. 17
Presenter: Robin Riechers

Freeze Impact to Spotted Seatrout and Other Species
August 26, 2021

I.      Executive Summary: With this item, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) staff seeks to brief the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (Commission) on freeze-related impacts to spotted seatrout and other species following the spring gill net sampling season and subsequent data analysis.

II.     Discussion: The February 2021 freeze event led to an estimated minimum of 3.8 million fish killed on the Texas coast. This was the largest freeze-related fish kill since the 1980s. The fish kill affected at least 61 species. Recreationally important game fish accounted for nine percent of the total fish kill, with spotted seatrout impacted the most. Both the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre Bay systems were hit particularly hard. The Lower Laguna Madre had the highest mortality of spotted seatrout, with an estimated 104,000 fish killed. That comprised 65 percent of the total estimated spotted seatrout killed, and when combined with the Upper Laguna Madre, it comprised 89 percent of the total estimated spotted seatrout mortality along the Texas Coast.

Based on the severity of impact to spotted seatrout in the lower coast, the Commission took emergency action at the March Commission Meeting to change the bag and size limits on spotted seatrout in the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre.

Spring gill net sampling conducted in each bay system provided information that helps biologists determine the impact of the freeze event on fish populations. Gill net catch rates for spotted seatrout were lower than the ten-year average catch rate for both the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre. Reduced catch rates were also observed in San Antonio, Matagorda, and East Matagorda bays. May and June salinities in several bay systems may have also contributed to lower-than-average catch rates. Corpus Christi, Aransas, Galveston, and Sabine Lakes bays had catch rates that were at or near the ten-year average catch rates. Freeze-related impacts to other recreationally and commercially important species appear to be minimal.

Based on results of the spring gill net sampling, the emergency action was recently extended by the TPWD Executive Director for an additional 60 days, expiring on September 29, 2021. Coastal fisheries will continue to monitor and evaluate fish populations and determine if any additional regulatory management actions are appropriate to include in the statewide regulation cycle.