Evidence of cold weather fish kills starting to surface

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - The recent cold weather that plunged deep into the heart of South Mississippi set numerous temperature records. The cold front, which featured three nights of freezing temperatures in the three coastal counties, has begun to have a direct impact on certain species of fish.

One of the first fish kills reported by WLOX occurred on Wolf River in the Pass Christian area on Tuesday where hundreds of white mullet were visible along the banks on small canals and bayous. The fish kill expanded along the Wolf River Wednesday.

"I think it's just starting," said Jim Franks, a Fisheries Biologists at the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs.

"From what I've seen, it looks like white mullet, which are more common in our area during this time of the year, and not the striped mullet. This cold weather is so unusual that we're not sure as to what will happen or what to expect. It could be Thursday or Friday before we really know the impact."

Due to extreme conditions that dropped temperatures into the low 20s, accompanied by neap tides on Monday and Tuesday as well as unusual low tides associated with stiff north winds, Franks said some dead fish might not surface until the end of the week. That's when high tides would begin to push the dead fish into pockets along the rivers, bayous and even along the immediate beachfront.

"We just don't know. It could also impact small flounder and drum, too. We will just have to wait and see. But you would think it (fish kill) would happen. We just don't know to what extent. We went out early Wednesday and there was a layer of ice on the water. The fish could not float to the surface until the ice melts."

Matt Hill, a Fisheries Biologists at the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources in Biloxi, said reports of fish kills began early Wednesday morning. He also thinks the brunt of the fish kill may not be felt until later in the week.

"The extreme cold temperatures have produced some small scale fish kills in local bayous and canals," Hill said.

"These events may continue for the next few days and vary in size. These kills are normal during this time of year when water temperatures plummet due to several consecutive days of extreme cold weather. These cold weather fish kills seem to be more severe in years when the colder weather follows a warm snap which warms area waters to higher than normal temperatures before dropping to below normal temperatures.

Mullet are the most common species associated with these kills. However, we do see other species associated with some of the larger kills. Historically these events have had little to no effect on the health of our fisheries and we believe this will be the case this year also."

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