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Cold Saltwater Temps Raise Concerns for Spotted Seatrout

Coastal anglers know that part of the bounty of our saltwater estuary is the possibility of catching a mixed bag of fish species. The entire food chain that exists in these tidal waters is able to withstand cold snaps, but a period of prolonged cold can reduce water temperatures to levels that may cause some fish to die. Historically, the most vulnerable fish species tends to be the spotted seatrout and the cold start to 2018 is raising concerns. Now a call for catch and release practices is going out from biologists and wildlife conservationists to anyone catching trout until they reach the next spawning period.

The first half of January 2018 brought more below freezing nights to the Lowcountry than recorded during the entire winter of 2016 – 2017. A rare Lowcountry snow, followed by deep freeze, were contributing factors that caused saltwater temps to dip to 42-degrees in Charleston. Some saltwater fishing guides began to report sluggish fish up and down the coast which can be a sign of stress for the estuary. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources began reporting some dead fish and shrimp along smaller tidal creeks and marshes.

SCDNR quickly closed the shrimp trawl season, but elected not to close the spotted seatrout fishery. With temperatures rebounding nicely, anglers who pursue trout should be able to find success, and SCDNR and the general public will learn a great deal from these anglers as their fishing reports surface. SCDNR biologists operate two monthly fish surveys along the S.C. coast using trammel nets and electrofishing. These resources are the leading scientific indicators of many saltwater species, but they won’t have an accurate assessment on the severity of winter’s impact until the April surveys when spawning seatrout show up.

“Seatrout numbers have been above average in South Carolina in recent years,” said SCDNR’s Phil Maier. “We hope this strong starting point, combined with voluntary conservation efforts by anglers, will help the fish recover quickly.” The most recent coldwater winter kills of spotted seatrout occurred in 2009 – 2010 and 2010 – 2011, followed by a slow and steady recovery during a number of warmer winters. The duration and severity of the 2018 winter is still unknown, so anyone finding dead or lethargic saltwater fish can report the information to Dr. Joey Ballenger at SCNDR, including location, date, species affected and the number recorded.

Just as spotted seatrout and other native species have evolved to be resilient when cyclical winter patterns emerge, Lowcountry topography such as deep holes in the estuary offer sanctuary to fish seeking safety. The shallow waters along the Grand Strand are more likely to be affected by harsh cold water temps, while deeper inlets such as Port Royal Sound are more tolerant in part due to higher salinity. The Port Royal Sound area experiences stronger tidal flows due to the depth, and these currents scour our tidal creeks with such force that deep holes are created along bends and formations in the waterway.

CCA’s Topwater Action Reaches Ten Years of Oyster Recycling Efforts

Leaders with the Coastal Conservation Association understand that you can’t have good fishing without good habitat, and that natural resources such as oyster beds are under pressure from increased harvests. As the number of people living near the coast trends upwards, the demand for oysters increases, and the practice of recycling oyster shells has taken off. Gary Keisler and the Topwater Action Committee have been volunteering to gather and recycle the oyster shells from the annual Boone Hall Oyster Roast for ten years, with the next event set for January 28.

The oyster shells have to be collected from shucking tables and then loaded into large dump trailers that can be hauled to boat landings before being redistributed into the estuary. Once loaded onto a barge or boat the shells can literally be splashed into the water using a water hose, so the shell can serve as substrate for future oysters to grow on. This technique is important not only to keep up with future oyster demand, but these bivalves serve as natural filters for the saltwater, improving the environment for all species.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcounty native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (345 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com