UPDATE for 2/23/18: As most of you know, I, the consummate scientist, have religiously taken water temperatures for well over 20 years. Why? It tells us who and when as far as the comings and goings of fish on our local waters. In the winter it also can raise flags as to the safety of some of our favorite commercial and recreational species, specifically the speckled trout who are known to be susceptible to cold water temperatures. Speckled trout are a warm water fish are the cold spells as we have experienced recently can lead to so called “cold stun” events or as I call them…troutsicles!
In fact over the years as I have amassed reams of water temperature date, we have also documented such trout kill/stun events every two to three years. This past week I measured surf temperatures at Bogue Pier as low as 38-degrees (Fahrenheit) and as low as 29 and 30-degrees in the ice and slush of Bogue Sound. The last time I saw water temperatures reaching these lows were in late January 2003, after a snow event and freeze which led to a very significant trout kill.
In late December 2010 into early January of 2011 we had a series of cold events that were extreme enough for our NC Department of Marine Fisheries close all harvest of speckled trout and adjust both bag and size limits for when the season reopened. More recently new cold stun guidelines have been put in place to, on a regional basis address the issues of cold stun events with speckled trout. These guidelines based on experimentally validated water temperature criteria and visual cold stun parameters of affected fish, were instituted for the first time this past week in response to the extreme weather conditions. This proclamation closes the commercial and recreational spotted seatrout fishery due to cold stun events, in accordance with the management strategy outlined in the N.C. Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan. The spotted seatrout fishery will open June 15, 2018 by proclamation.
So how wide was the scope of this year’s cold stun event? Locally we have heard of stunned and dead trout numbering in the hundreds in fish in the North River and at least 1000 estimated in the White Oak River near the train trestle around Stella, Gayle’s Creek, Pungo River and there were also stunned fish reported as far north as Kitty Hawk Bay and as far south as Surf City. There were also reports of trout kills in Virginia. Indeed a wide ranging situation. Also remember the number of floating fish, that initially lost equilibrium doesn’t account for the many that remain on the bottom unseen. The NCDMF may do some bottom trawl surveys to get a better handle on the total numbers. Other fish killed? Visual confirmed reports were of red and black drum, flounder mullet and probably more.
And please remember, during this closure NO possession of spotted sea trout is allowed from fishing or scooping up of dying or dead fish. I repeat NO possession of speckled trout is allowed until the closure is ended by proclamation, presumably on June 15, 2018 by our new Director of Marine Fisheries, Steve Murphey. Steve was recently appointed to take place of the interim director Braxton Davis who will return to his full-time role as director of Coastal Management.