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Speckled trout fish kills caused by frigid water

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109 dead Speckled Trout collected from Wilton Creek for VIMS research.

by Larry Chowning

Plunging water temperatures have resulted in thousands of speckled trout dying in the Piankatank River, North River, Ware River, Mobjack Bay, and the eastern and western branches of the Corrotoman River.

Retired Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) recreational fishery specialist Jon Lucy said dead speckled trout have been found in the Piankatank River from Freeport in Gloucester all the way to the Twigg Bridge near Hartfield.

“On the north side of the Piankatank, large numbers of dead fish have been found floating and on the bottom in Wilton and Healy creeks, and in waters between Stamper’s Bay Landing and Berkeley Island,” said Lucy. Dancing Creek and Fury Creek on the south bank of the Piankatank also have dead speckled trout. 

“The fish we found today all look like they recently died,” said Lucy on Monday. “Their eyes are clear and gills pink.”

Former VMRC officer Keith Nutthall said the first signs of the fish kill were discovered last week on the Eastern Branch of the Corrotoman River and have since spread to other creeks.

He said that speckled trout are ordinarily migratory fish that go south in the winter for warmer water. Over the past three or four years, however, mild winters have caused the specks to stay in the Chesapeake Bay, which proved fatal this year during one of the area’s coldest winters.

An avid speckled trout recreational fisherman, Nutthall said he and a friend caught 54 speckled trout on January 14 at the headwaters of the Eastern Branch of the Corrotoman River. “We had seven citation fish and we kept the five-fish limit that we were entitled to and released the others.”

Nutthall said speckled trout fishing has been very productive the past few winters.

Trout Stuns
The speckled trout kills are sometimes referred to as “trout stuns” because many of the fish are stunned by the cold water temperatures and later die. The fish cannot tolerate zero-degree nights and days with temperature in the teens, said Lucy.

The state of North Carolina also had a massive trout stun kill of speckled trout the first week in February, and officials there closed the recreation and commercial fisheries to give surviving trout a chance to spawn in the spring before the warm weather season opens.

Lucy said many of the fish are so chilled they can be caught in a hand held landing net. He also said gill-netters have been going into Wilton Creek and catching hundreds of the fish. “I think the fish need a break,” he said. “I think a lot of people will object to a moratoarium but I think a closure would be the smartest thing to do to give the surviving fish a chance to spawn in the spring.”

Lucy said that he and others will attend the February 19 VMRC Finfish Advisory Committee meeting and ask the committee to advise VMRC on a possible speckled trout harvest closure in Virginia.

posted 02.12.2014

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