HURRICANE RITA IMPACTED FRESHWATER FISHERIES IN SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA, SAYS L.D.W.F. BIOLOGIST

Release Date: 03/20/2006

Hurricane Rita effected more than just humanity in southwest Louisiana when she roared ashore just before daybreak on Sept. 24, 2005.  The areas that were hardest hit included the low-lying areas of Vermilion and Cameron parishes below the Gulf Intracoastal Canal.


Coastal areas under water control management were inundated with saltwater as a result of storm surge.  Strong winds caused sediment turnover in area waterways, which stimulated decaying organic matter and depleted oxygen levels throughout the water column.  Wide-spread fish kills were noted along the coast from Vermilion Bay to Sabine Lake, according to Bobby Reed, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Inland Fisheries biologist.


The drought before Rita and the storms lack of significant rain left vast areas of salt water with no chance of dilution.  In addition to fish kills, the pooled salt water had adverse affects on freshwater marsh vegetation as well.  The decaying vegetation led to anoxic conditions that also killed fish, both fresh and salt water species.  Poor water quality continued for many weeks during fall months with the Mermentau and Calcasieu rivers showing the lingering effects.  However, the Sabine River was unaffected by the storm surge.


Less than average rainfall this winter contributed to the slow return of fresh water.  High water events on area rivers will bring about the return of good water and restock the lower reaches and coastal marshes with fish from upstream, said Reed.  We have a lot of dead and dying vegetation everywhere along our waterways and this causes oxygen depletion during the decaying process.  When temperatures warm up this spring I am concerned about residual fish kills throughout the region.


Inland Fisheries is currently developing a statewide resource recovery plan for those areas damaged as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Division biologists are sampling area waterways to monitor habitat and resource recovery.  As the freshwater habitat recovers, LDWF will be prepared to initiate a stocking plan if needed and issue periodic announcements to keep residents informed of actions taken.


While fishing in many coastal areas may be hit and miss, upland reservoirs such as Anacoco, Bundick, Vernon and Toledo Bend, which were unaffected by the storm, should provide opportunities, said Reed.  Salt water fishing should be good this summer as well.


EDITORS: For more information, contact Bobby Reed at 337-491-2577 or breed@wlf.louisiana.gov.