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    Default Dead in the water: Too early to judge severity of fish kill

    Dead in the water: Too early to judge severity of fish kill
    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says extent of this winter's fish kill won't be clear until weather warms up.



    By Jim Sutton
    While no one is officially predicting just how bad the winter of 2010 will be remembered in terms of its effect on the stateís fish population, most agree that many anglers would rather forget the first two weeks of the year.

    Ron Taylor is the snook coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He said that itís premature to speculate on the severity of the statewide fish kill.

    He said that the worst fish kill in state history happened in 1977, when it snowed in Miami Beach. The second most devastating fish kill occurred around Christmas of 1989. Taylor said that, in 1977, there were fish killed all the way south to Islamorada in the Florida Keys. An estimated 1 million snook were killed, scientists believe. That did not happen in 1989, when the estimation of deaths was 500,000.

    In 2010, it did.

    While Taylor is taking a wait-and -see approach, whatís unsettling is this: He said that weíll really have no idea of the severity of the fish kill until there are a couple of warm days.

    ďThatís when all the fish dead on the bottom will float up,Ē Taylor said.

    But based on solely on how far south the temperatures fell, Taylor said this winterís fish kill might be worse than í89, but less severe than í77.

    Rick Roberts is the executive director of the Snook Foundation. Heís working closely with Taylor to try to identify snook kills across the state, and the reports are still coming in.

    ďThe juryís still out,Ē he said by phone Friday.

    Roberts said that heís more surprised by the fish that didnít die than those that did. He said that conventional wisdom is that when the water temperature hits 54 degrees, all snook die. He believes that wasnít the case this time around.

    While most of the spotlight during these freezes shines on one of the stateís premier game fish, the snook, it was by no means the only species hit hard.

    In the southern part of the state, the biologists look at how many days of sub-60 degree weather they have when looking at snook mortality. In Northeast Florida, we were watching the other end of the thermometer.

    Records show that Jacksonville had 12 consecutive days of near- or sub-freezing weather, beginning Jan. 3 and ending Jan. 14. Water temperatures here, according to charter captains out on the Intracoastal Waterway, dropped as low as 40 degrees ó or lower.

    While several photos came in of dead or dying snook and other local fish, the most amazing was sent by George Hume. The photo is of Hume on his dock with a snook he found belly-up in Palm Valley. If you look closely, you can see that there is a layer of ice behind him in the photo. Hume said that on that morning, Jan. 10, the surface of the ICW was frozen all the way across.

    I havenít found anyone who remembers ice on the ICW, let alone a half-mile sheet. Itís especially incredible when you consider that salt water freezes at a lower temperature than freshwater. The more salt, the lower the temperature required to freeze it.

    While itís impossible to know what the salinity of the brackish water around Palm Valley was that day, itís likely that it would have taken a minimum of 26 to 28 degrees for ice to have formed on the water. The low temperature recorded in Jacksonville that morning was 24 degrees.

    Hume saw hundreds of dead fish dead floating, including mullet, snook and trash fish.

    Gary Burdette heads the Jacksonville Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association. He witnessed a fish kill at Marsh Landing Harbour. He estimated that as many as 500 snook were floating in the water that weekend. Some were between 20 to 25 pounds. Most, he said, were juvenile fish.

    Thatís good and bad news. Conventional wisdom says that snook might get lost and head as far north as Jacksonville, but those have generally been thought to be mature fish pushing their boundary north. Taylor said that thereís been no evidence that snook are reproducing in these northern climes. He said that anywhere north of Cape Canaveral is considered out of the snookís general territory.

    That fact that so many juvenile fish were reported killed in Jacksonville might point to the existence of a local spawn that researchers have never documented. That could be good news. Taylor said that it could also be bad news in that the first spawning stocks are all dead. Itís too early for state scientists and biologists to assimilate the data, which the FWC said is still pouring in.

    But while the snook continues to take center stage, it is by no means the only species devastated by the cold. The reports to the FWCís fish kill hotline (800-636-0511) include dozens of types of saltwater and freshwater fish.

    In freshwater, catfish, speckled perch, tilapia and bluegills have been killed. In saltwater, the list includes black grouper, tripletail, puffers, sheepshead, yellowtail, permit, spadefish, stingrays, sand perch, blue crabs, stone crabs, shrimp, gag grouper, jacks, parrotfish, barracuda, pompano, mullet, catfish, redfish, grunts and kingfish.

    There were even sharks trapped in shallow water and killed by cold.

    There were several local reports of tarpon carcasses floating.

    Professor Jerry Ault of Miamiís Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science reported that the carcasses of 150 bonefish were brought in from Florida Bay in the upper Keys.

    Sea turtles, too, were susceptible to the cold. The FWC has been working with other state and local agencies.

    More than 2,000 sea turtles have been rescued across Florida, and 750 were taken to Merritt Island National Refuge. As the turtles recover and temperatures rise, they will be relocated

  2. #2
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    the reason i have put this up,is because thier was a story in yesterday paper,which claimed the magnetic poles in the north pole are shifting and fish are losing thier sense of direction,swiming into cold water or wrong rivers,

    if this is true then salmon returning to thier birth rivers have serious problems coming,and stocks could be all over the place,inter breed,etc

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