Texans have been busy winterizing facilities, businesses, and residences and otherwise managing a record of sub-freezing days, but the biggest natural resource impact so far appears to be fisheries along the Texas Gulf coast. Texas has about two million acres of bays and estuaries susceptible to freezes. There were three major freezes during the 1980s, including one in 1989 when the temperature at Brownsville dropped to 16 degrees and an estimated 11 million fish were killed.
This week, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) issued a news release asking saltwater anglers to voluntarily help protect red drum, spotted seatrout, snook and other aquatic resources, including flounder. The release said “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” and asked anglers to avoid catching fish populations in these natural refuge areas.
In the Palacios area, staff reported redfish farmers are keeping their fingers crossed hoping to get through the arctic cold snap without a fish kill. In the Corpus Christi area, December was the eighth coldest on record since 1856. Area staff reported cold stunned green sea turtles were last week starting to appear in local waters, and one stunned sea turtle was brought to our Corpus hatchery for care. News media reported that on Saturday about 150 cold-stunned green sea turtles had washed up in the shallow bays and channels near South Padre Island and Corpus Christi, and at least 38 of them died, all Atlantic greens.
The article said turtles that could be rescued were taken to facilities at Sea Turtle Inc. and the University of Texas-Pan American’s Coastal Study Laboratory. The last large-scale stranding was in 2007, when TPWD staff helped rescue and rehabilitate dozens of cold-stunned sea turtles.