by David Shormann
Ideas vs. Reality
The one-two punch of February’s winter storms Uri and Viola had devastating impacts on humans and animals in Texas and other states. This article sheds light on the often-overlooked impact of big freeze events on Texas coastal fisheries.
The reality is the back-to-back winter storms kept temperatures low enough, long enough, to kill millions of fishes, thousands of sea turtles, and countless other marine creatures. Contrast this reality with the fallacious idea that climate change is an imminent threat. We simply cannot be simultaneously headed towards overheating the planet while breaking century-old low temperature records.
The fact that John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, flies a private jet is our first clue that those making policy decisions don’t believe their own words. Another clue is the increasingly long history of unfulfilled doomsday prophecies regarding climate change, aka catastrophic global warming.
A June 1989 United Nations report predicted entire nations would be wiped off the face of the Earth by sea level rise if the global warming trend was not reversed by 2000. Another false prophecy was Al Gore’s claims of climate catastrophe by 2016. Most recently, doomsday prophet John Kerry moved the goalposts on climate catastrophe to 2030.
A great aspect of scientific investigation is we can test ideas against reality. Scientists collect data, make models, and use those models to predict future results. But, once the future is here, if the model miserably fails to predict results, then the model is discarded. The fact that the goalposts keep moving on when the planet will fry suggests reality keeps proving this idea of catastrophic global warming is just that, an idea.
The Reality of Millions of Freeze-Killed Fishes
The history of Texas coastal freeze-kill events is one of the best evidences climate change is not an imminent threat. A 1996 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) report by Joe H. Martin and Lawrence W. McEachron records freeze kills of coastal fishes all the way back to 1527, with a report from the Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca. The report annotates over 20 events. The mid-1800s onward saw more consistent reporting, although more standardized surveys were not conducted until the early 1980s.
One conclusion from the report is that, since the 1800’s, major freeze-kill events occur on average every 10-15 years. This is valuable information for studying real climate trends, as well as for predicting future outcomes.
While some minor freeze-kill events occurred after Dec. 1989, no major events happened in the almost 32 years leading up to the February 2021 event. This time interval is well above average, and supports the fact that Texas coastal temperatures have risen in recent decades. Since 1989, fishing has been exceptional for coastal species like speckled trout, redfish and black drum. Sea turtle populations skyrocketed. These are good things.
Of course, some blame back-to-back winter storms on the so-called “imminent threat” of climate change, claiming global warming will cause an increase in extreme weather events. The Texas winter-kill records show the opposite trend though: As temperatures warm, major fish kills become less frequent.
Data from the 1996 TPWD report allows us to estimate the severity of the February 2021 freeze event. For example, the duration of cold weather can indicate the severity of a freeze-kill event. In the Feb. 1989 freeze-kill, temperatures dropped below freezing for 35 hours in Corpus Christi. During the 2021 freeze, temps stayed below freezing for 44 hours in Corpus Christi, and 66 hours in Port Arthur. Compare Port Arthur’s duration to 77 hours during the 1983 freeze and 60 hours during the Dec. 1989 freeze.
The 2021 freeze has many similarities to the devastating Texas coastal freeze-kill events of 1983 and 1989, which killed between 6 and 14 million fish. I would expect the 2021 event to fall somewhere in this range, maybe higher. One advantage we have today compared to 1989 is social media. And drones. Experienced Texas coastal fishermen know the pulse of the bays better than almost anyone, including the scientists. A few videos documenting freeze-killed fishes are available here, here and here. Using drone footage found on social media, I was able to roughly estimate a Texas coastal freeze-kill between 10 and 17 million fishes. Locations with less access to deep water were impacted more. The freeze impacted all bay systems, but the hardest-hit appear to be East Matagorda bay and southward, similar to the 1989 freeze events.
Thankfully, most fishermen on social media are encouraging catch and release for the near future, especially for speckled trout, which are visibly more affected than other popular gamefish like redfish. Temporary restrictions on the fishery may also be necessary, but hopefully TPWD will not be too draconian in their policies.
Another consequence of a freeze-kill is the nutrient pulse from the decomposing fishes, followed by an algae bloom. I did my master’s research on the brown tide algal bloom, believed to have been triggered by the nutrient pulse from the December, 1989 freeze-kill. It will be interesting to see if another brown tide bloom develops from Baffin Bay to Copano Bay, as it did from 1989-1992.
The Fishery Will Recover
History shows the fishery will recover from the 2021 freeze just like it did in 1989, and every freeze before that. I remember catching good numbers of speckled trout and redfish in Baffin Bay just 2.5 years after the Dec. 1989 freeze.
Too much faith in the failed idea of catastrophic climate change took Texans by surprise. The 2021 freeze-kill that broke Texas records as far back as 1895 brought into focus the reality of actual climate trends.
Prediction: Another major winter kill will occur in the next 30 years. Climate catastrophe will not. Let’s all do our part to encourage conservation of Texas coastal fisheries as they try to rebound from this devastating freeze and focus more on real environmental issues like clean air and water, and abundant and diverse wildlife.
Until populations recover, many Texas coastal fishermen are recommending anglers avoid “limiting out” on species like these speckled trout and redfish. Author photo from a 2012 fishing trip, when the fishery was in good shape.
David Shormann, Ph.D., a marine chemist and limnologist, is President of DIVE (Digital Interactive Video Education), Houston, TX, and a contributing writer for The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.