Fish die by thousands along Galvestons beaches

By Chris Paschenko, The Daily News
13 August 2012

Photo by Jennifer Reynolds – See More Photos   Stan Lewis of Dallas rakes dead fish into a pile away from his family’s tent at Bermuda Beach in Galveston on Sunday. Thousands of dead fish littered the beaches on the West End.

GALVESTON — Low oxygen levels are believed to have killed possibly hundreds of thousands of Gulf menhaden fish found littering beaches and shorelines from Matagorda to Galveston, officials said Sunday.

There was no beach water advisory issued for the thousands of beach-goers enjoying a lazy Sunday in Galveston. The smell, however, prompted some to grab buckets and shovels to clear their immediate surroundings.

“It was pretty gross,” Thomas Powell of Houston said. “It was worse before we cleared them out.”

City Manager Michael Kovacs said Sunday night that the Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees was mobilizing to pick up the fish.

Steven Mitchell, a biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said low levels of dissolved oxygen in the offshore waters could have caused the fish kill, which progressed east from the Colorado River toward Galveston.

“I would say it’s pretty moderate to high level,” Mitchell said. “It’s extended over a large geographical area. It’s not what I would consider a small fish kill now, and it’s still ongoing.”

Mitchell fielded no reports of pollution or red tide, an algae bloom that also could deplete oxygen in water.

The Gulf kill was believed to be limited to Gulf menhaden, also known as shad, which are more susceptible to fish killings. Mitchell found mullet jumping from the water and sea turtles that were alive near the coast Sunday.

Testing revealed no depleted oxygen levels along the shoreline, but with calm conditions and the heat, Mitchell suspected a dead zone offshore.

“Menhaden swim in the thousands of fish in schools, and when they get into trouble, they just can’t get out of it,” Mitchell said. “I suspect the schools were swimming in a dead zone offshore, but we haven’t confirmed that.”

Mitchell planned to test offshore waters later this week.

Galveston Island Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis, who lives on the island’s West End, awoke Sunday to the smell of dead fish.

“I kind of knew it was coming yesterday,” Davis said, noting his office received several calls Saturday of dead fish found farther west at Terramar Beach.

On Sunday, Davis found the beach in front of his home littered with thousands of dead Gulf menhaden, which extended west in the same numbers about 18 miles.

Davis found fewer dead fish east of 61st Street. He spoke to fisherman who reported a smaller fish kill in West Galveston Bay.

There were significant numbers of flounder and stingrays found dead Saturday in Galveston Bay near Kemah. That kill also was likely associated with low oxygen levels near the bottom of the bay, Mitchell said.