Experts: Cold weather fish kill could have been much worse

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - It could have been worse. That is the approach one fisheries biologists is taking in terms of the fish kill associated with last week's hard freeze in South Mississippi.

The freeze, which saw temperatures dip into the low 20s from Pascagoula to Bay St. Louis, did have an impact on white mullet and minnows that were trapped in shallow water canals due to extreme low tides. The heaviest hit areas were off the Wolf River in Pass Christian.

Other species such as drum, flounder, speckled trout and white trout appear to have survived one of the coldest three-day periods to invade South Mississippi in several decades.

''There's no doubt that it could have been a lot worse,'' said Jim Franks, a fisheries biologist at the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs.

''We were preparing for worse to be honest because one of the places I checked had water temperatures below 40-degrees. It may still be too early to tell what the overall impact might be, but for now it wasn't as bad as we expected. That's a good thing.''

Franks also spoke with biologists at the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources in Biloxi and fisheries biologists in Alabama and got the same positive results.

''Our guys (DMR) said they didn't see that much of a fish kill either. Over in Alabama, they said the same thing. Needless to say, we are all surprised that it wasn't worse, but we are happy, too.''

Before the early January freeze, Franks said predators like trout and redfish dealt with two other cold weather incidents in which temperatures dropped below freezing. The first occurred during the Thanksgiving Holiday when water temperatures dropped from the mid 60s to the low 50s.

That sudden drop did cause a fish kill for baby tarpon in a few shallow water canals near Graveline Bayou in Gautier. Those fish, like the mullet, were trapped in the canals during low tide.

''It was in a shallow water canal that we have been seeing small tarpon. We found 31 dead tarpon with the cold front in November, which was real early. I kind of expected to see the same thing with the recent cold weather, but that was not the case. Fish are smart. They may have moved into deeper-water before the front came through based on the two other cold fronts. We just don't know.''

Based on the small fish kill, Franks doesn't expect the upcoming spring fishing season to be impacted.

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