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Fish deaths are being blown out of proportion

Aug. 18, 2012 at 3:18 a.m.

This photo was taken Aug. 2, 2005, near the mouth of the Colorado River in Matagorda. Last week's shad kill, in many estimations, did not come close to rivaling the 2005 episode or others since.

I saw the first signs of dead shad when I pulled up to the pier of my lodge on the Colorado River. No big deal, I thought.

This is August and for the 15 years I have been fishing Matagorda, a fish kill normally occurs every August when temperatures reach the century mark and calm winds allow the Gulf of Mexico to resemble a tranquil pond.

Such was the case on Aug. 7. The surf was green to the beach with water gingerly lapping. Waders caught consistent limits of speckled trout on the beach, while boaters fared just as well in the first gut and along the jetty rocks.

Two days later, those floating shad washed up on beaches from Galveston to Matagorda, sending beachcombers and other tourists into a frenzy. Then the Houston television and print media caught wind of the typical occurrence and blew it up and out of proportion over the newspapers and televisions. Hyperbole is what my college English professors called it. I knew it was bad when the contemporary Christian radio station I listen to and support financially told beach-goers to beware of the fish kill on Galveston Island. Then my phone began to light up with calls from concerned clients about the fish kill and how it would affect their scheduled fishing charter.

So, to squash the hysteria, here a level-headed evaluation of the situation.

Early this week, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. issued a statement saying the fish kill was attributed to red tide, an algae caused by high concentrations of a plant-like microorganism called Karenia brevis or K. brevis. These high concentrations called blooms may cause the water to appear red, light or dark green, or brown. Karenia brevis produces a toxin, called brevetoxin, which can affect the central nervous system of fish, birds, mammals and other animals. The most visible result of red tide is dead fish on the beach or floating in the water. It is a naturally-occurring organism that is likely always present at low concentrations in the Gulf of Mexico and is believed to have been around for centuries.

According to TPWD, red tide blooms most often beginning in late summer or early fall and can last days, weeks or months. Bloom locations can change daily due to wind conditions. People with respiratory problems may be especially affected by aerosolized toxins during red tides. Symptoms common when breathing red tide toxins include coughing, sneezing, and watery, burning eyes.

Many anglers, including myself, experienced these symptoms during the Fall of 2011 when red tide was present in most Texas bays, probably due to the lack of freshwater and hypersaline levels brought about by the severe drought Texas endured.

As for red tide contributing to the fish kill last week? I am skeptical. I am not saying there are not algae blooms present, rather, I believe the kill was brought about by the same variables we see every August - weak tides, a increase of shad showing along the beachfront, triple-digit thermometers and a calm surf (waves create oxygen like an aerator when its water crashes over sand bars).

In past years I have seen kills much worse, to the extent of floating shad covering the entire portion of the lower end and mouth of the Colorado River.

I fondly remember August 1998 because I had never seen so many large schools of shad so tight to the beach and the surf so flat. I waded the first gut that morning and never caught a trout due to acres of tarpon pulling up shallow and blasting schools of shad.

The next day thousands of dead shad littered the water and tested my gag reflex after a couple of days of extreme heat and decomposition.

So last week's fish kill is nothing to be alarmed about. Just part of the circle of life along the Texas coast.

Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed captain (binkgrimes@sbcglobal.net).

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