The second round of cold weather over the past two weeks included a few cold-stuns and kills for coastal fish, but they weren’t as severe as a 2014 fish kill, and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries said there is no reason to close the fishery.
According to fishermen and a spokesman for NCDMF, the cold-stun and kill was widespread but did not include large numbers of fish. Speckled trout were the fish most affected, but several other species were involved to a minor degree.
Fishermen started to report a few fish floating along the coast 10 days ago, the hardest-hit areas being Hancock and Slocum creeks near Havelock. Marine Patrol, NCDMF biologists and biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and enforcement officers found only pockets, with a dozen or two fish affected in each area. With another slug of cold weather bearing down on North Carolina late last week, NCDMF instituted its freeze/stun protocols and prepared for the worst.
Thankfully, the news has been better than expected. Apparently, fish took heed after the first freeze and moved to deeper water before the single-digit cold of Thursday and Friday.
"We instituted cold-stun and kill protocols immediately after the first incident last week and our agency had Marine Patrol officers and staff on the water and at the fish houses every day," said Michael Loeffler, the NCDMF biologist whose concentration is speckled trout. "The details you have heard from fishermen are very similar to what our staff found. There were stunned and dead spotted sea trout in various areas during and after the cold snap.
"The concentration of mortalities was in Craven County, in Slocum and Hancock creeks,” Loeffler said. "There, staff collected 100 fish for biological samples and saw a few hundred more. Beaufort County had scattered stunned fish and a mortalities. Hyde County had minimal stunned fish and very few mortalities. Dare County had no observed stunned fish or mortalities."
Loeffler said the water temperatures dropped below 38 degrees in many places, and it was there was minimal runoff, or things could have been much worse. With a big snow across the state last night, Loeffler said he’s concerned that the resulting runoff could have a negative effect for fish that are already stressed, and that NCDMF will continue monitoring.
Loeffler said there are no plans to close the speckled trout season, but another severe cold-stun of kill event in three or more counties would put a closure in place. Fishermen who observe stunned or dead fish are asked to report them to NCDMF at 800-682-2632.