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Red tide confirmed on Texas coast

Dianna Wray

By Dianna Wray
Aug. 13, 2012 at 3:13 a.m.

Stan Lewis, of Dallas, rakes dead fish into a pile and away from his family's tent at Bermuda Beach in Galveston, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012. Thousands of dead fish littered West End beaches Sunday.

Red tide has been confirmed along the Texas coast, and those in the fishing industry are keeping a sharp eye on the toxic algae, and already worrying about what they will do if it spreads.

Texas Parks and Wildlife officials began receiving reports of numerous dead and dying fish being sighted on Friday, Texas Parks and Wildlife marine biologist Meredith Byrd said. Dead fish were reported from Quintana Beach to the mouth of the Colorado River. Red tide has not been confirmed as the cause of the fish kills, but Texas State Department of Health Services officials found levels of red tide algae in Galveston waters and ordered areas of Galveston Bay closed to mollusk and shellfish harvesting.

While this bloom appeared earlier than the algae did last year, Byrd said this is isn't an unusual time for the algae to appear. Texas Parks and Wildlife officials are still working to gather information on the red tide bloom.

"This is all very new, so we're still in the information-gathering phase," Byrd said. "I have no predictions for how long this is going to last, or how the coast is going to be impacted."

Last year, after the most severe drought on record, Texas waters were warm and salty, the perfect conditions for red tide to flourish. Red tide carries neurotoxins that kill fish and render oysters and other shellfish toxic to eat. More than 4.5 million fish were killed by the algae bloom that first appeared last September. Red tide was found in most of the bays used for Texas oystering. State health officials closed Texas waters to oystering for three months of the season as they waited for fresh water and cold weather to kill the algae.

Curtis Miller, the owner of Miller's Seafood, said he is keeping a close eye on the algae. After receiving so much rain over the summer, Miller is hoping that the influx of freshwater will keep the algae bloom out of local waters.

"I was really shocked that we're even talking about this again. It's been a drastic difference between the drought last year and with the rainfall we've had this year," he said.

The oyster season, which usually opens in November, stayed closed until January as state health officials waited for the algae to die off. Another truncated season could do a lot of damage to the Texas oyster industry, he said.

"It would definitely devastate the industry," he said. "Last year, when we finally opened the season, a lot of boats never left the docks. People had gotten other jobs. Some people left it and never came back."



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