Some Texas coastal fisheries devastated by 2021 freeze, but it’s nothing new

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.

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March 1, 2021 10:29 am

“…..Since 1989, fishing has been exceptional for coastal species like speckled trout, redfish and black drum. Sea turtle populations skyrocketed. These are good things…..”

Must be fake news by a denier !…Everyone knows that the BP Macondo blowout irrevocably destroyed these populations in 2010……/sarc

Reply to  DMacKenzie
March 1, 2021 12:30 pm

I have it on good authority that the crude oil from that massive leak ended up in the Bermuda Triangle.
Never to be seen again.

March 1, 2021 11:12 am

Find a year in Texas without some deadly/costly weather disaster!

Chuck no longer in Houston
Reply to  MrGimNasty
March 3, 2021 1:01 pm

It’s a big place.

Alan Robertson
March 1, 2021 11:36 am

Life will go on in Big Tuna.

Reply to  Alan Robertson
March 1, 2021 12:06 pm

I find that fishy.

Reply to  shrnfr
March 1, 2021 1:23 pm

It’s OK, they’re not kelpless.

March 1, 2021 11:51 am

Dr. Shormann and I will discuss this on Cornwall Alliance’s livestream From the Stacks Tuesday, March 2, at 7 p.m. Eastern Time, live simultaneously on and Join us and pose your questions, and we’ll do our best to answer in real time.

March 1, 2021 11:57 am

Miller was a piker when compared to the Escathological Cargo Cult of the Climate Doomsday.

Ron vdS
March 1, 2021 12:27 pm

What? They move the goal posts! This can not be further from the truth. If you are going to state what you think are facts at least get them right or at least include them all so people can make an informed decision if they believe this dribble.

1: Moved the goal posts.
2: Decommission country area temperature stations.
3: CSIRO alters Australian historic data.

Please feel free to add to this list

March 1, 2021 12:34 pm

> 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.

Ummm. No. “Average” isn’t informative in situations like this. That’s not how sparse numbers work. This is like 100 year storms and such. Bad weather is not climate change anymore than those 32 years are evidence of no climate change.

March 1, 2021 12:37 pm

> <i>Since 1989, fishing has been exceptional for coastal species like speckled trout, redfish and black drum. Sea turtle populations skyrocketed. These are good things.</i>

Land, water and light pollution reductions. Good things. We learn. Climate change? Irrelevant.

H. D. Hoese
March 1, 2021 3:38 pm

Interesting thesis-Shormann, D. E. 1992. The effects of freshwater inflow and hydrography on the distribution of brown tide in south Texas bays. M.S. thesis Univ. Tex. Austin, 111pp.

The 80s freezes kills producing low populations were used as the main reason to ban commercial fishing, mainly gillnetting for red drum and speckled trout. Freezes in the 40s and 50s when there was commercial fishing found that they recovered in 2-3 years, suggestion was it was a waste not to fish them since they would die of cold. Now they ban picking up the freeze kills, rescinded when they started to rot. Wonder if the brown tide would have developed if the fish had been scarcer?

Big mullet kill in Rockport, two size classes, adults offshore spawning, maybe trapped going to temporarily warmer deeper water. Wonder what the birds will eat and how many fish escaped offshore from several days of low temperature before the big one. Every freeze is different.

Incidentally, the marine lab & library where Shormann worked has been closed for a year, director was fired, don’t know what’s going on. Main University of Texas Austin library barely open, but not to public.

H. D. Hoese
Reply to  H. D. Hoese
March 1, 2021 4:45 pm

Need to clarify that, exceptional lab marine science library at least physically closed to students and faculty, some work going on, at least some faculty working at home, change of leadership. Austin I guess, who now controls the lab. Am going to investigate further if possible, as other universities seem to be more open.

David S
Reply to  H. D. Hoese
March 2, 2021 8:47 am

Thank you for your comments, I’m assuming this is the co-author of Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico?! Absolutely love that book. If you haven’t already, check out the drone footage video I link to in the article, the one by ThresherFishing. As you said, lots of smaller mullet, but you can also see some live 12″+ trying to warm themselves in the shallows. He also has a more recent video where he catches a few reds by the CC causeway. They absolutely inhale his lure, as if they are starving. I haven’t heard much about the invertebrates, but I’m guessing they were impacted, too. Thanks for the info about UTMSI, hope they reopen soon.

robert steele
March 1, 2021 3:42 pm

seems to happen during solar sunspot minimums. florida cancelled its snook season around 2010 because they lost a lot of snook. 1989 was close to a solar minimum. 2009 was close to a solar minimum. too much of a coincidence. every solar cycle minimum (average 11 years or so) somebody gets cold, like clockwork.

Reply to  robert steele
March 2, 2021 5:31 am

I agree Robert – There were extreme cold events worldwide circa 2009 at the end of SC23 / start of SC24 – that observation enabled me to refine my 2002 global cooling prediction in 2013 from “begin the next cooling period by 2020 to 2030” (2002) to “starts by 2020 or sooner” (2013), below.
Cooling has started sporadically in different parts of the world. Early indications of cooling are the one-month late planting of grains across the Great Plains of North America in 2018 and 2019, and the huge Great Plains crop failure of 2019.
By Allan M.R. MacRae and Joseph D’Aleo, October 27, 2019
I expect colder events now than ~2009, because we are at the end of weak SC24 and the beginning of weak SC25. Where the polar vortex lands next is the purview of experts like Joe D’Aleo and Joe Bastardi at Weatherbell.
The global warming alarmists (aka “climate fraudsters”) could not have been more wrong. These “climate clowns” have persuaded our idiot politicians to sabotage our electric grids with intermittent wind and solar power generation, which drive up power costs and reduce grid reliability. Politicians in general are scientific and technical Imbeciles who should not even opine on energy, let alone set energy policy. I said decades ago that this would end badly, and it has.

Century-scale climate was always driven by solar activity and ocean cycles, never by atmospheric (“atm.”) CO2, because changes in atm. CO2 lag changes in atm. temperature at all measured time scales (MacRae 2008). My 2008 statement “The future cannot cause the past” is a strong disproof of global warming / climate hysteria.
By Allan M.R. MacRae, January 2008

Kuo et al (1990) and Keeling (1995) made similar observations (CO2 lags temperature) in the once-great journal Nature, but have been studiously ignored by global warming fraudsters.
The full article for my 1Sept2002 Calgary Herald global cooling prediction is referenced, with my 2013 update.
3. “If [as we believe] solar activity is the main driver of surface temperature rather than CO2, we should begin the next cooling period by 2020 to 2030.” (2002)
3a. “I suggest global cooling starts by 2020 or sooner. Bundle up.” (2013)

Regards, Allan

David S
Reply to  robert steele
March 2, 2021 11:30 am

Interesting thoughts regarding the solar cycles! Yeah, I believe the Carolinas had some pretty significant damage to speckled trout populations around 2010 also. Snook (and tarpon) were some of the first species to show up dead in the Texas 2021 freeze.

Rud Istvan
March 1, 2021 5:32 pm

Came belatedly to this thread. Learned something new that in hindsight is obvious.
I am a big trout fly fisherman—MA, WI, CO, Canada. Never got to Alaska. So have known since ‘forever’ that too warm or too low flow summer flow kills trout. Mechanism is simple. Trout live in fast flowing cold water, and need lots of oxygen to keep moving. Water gets too warm or flow too low, they suffocate slowly.

Had not thought about cold shock for shallow warm water salt water species. Dunno the exact kill mechanism (maybe cold slows metabolism and they also suffocate from lack of gill/ forward motion action like sharks who have to keep moving?), but the analogy is clear.

And apparently like trout, those that do survive will repopulate those shallow bays in a couple of years. For trout, that is the big ones in the occasional deep pools, which if you catch should release.

Thanks for this post.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
March 2, 2021 5:49 am

Hi Rud – if you haven’t fished trout in Southern Alberta, you should drop by.

Alberta also has great hunting and trout fishing, and some world-class hunting and fishing guides.

“Must Be Nice” Drift Company of Calgary is owned and operated by Tom Cutmore, good friend of my late friend Ron Clark – I think Tom is still in business – has a great reputation.

I’d recommend hunting guide Dewey Browning, but he went and died when I wasn’t looking, at age 86 – father of world champion figure skater Kurt Browning.

Best, Allan

David S
Reply to  Rud Istvan
March 2, 2021 9:00 am

Thank you for your comment Rud, I’m not 100% sure the exact kill mechanism, but definitely can be metabolism related. Also, most fishes body salinity is less than the water, and salinity lowers the freezing point, so the fish can actually freeze even if the water isn’t frozen. Some fish are also believed to simply suffocate, because they go to the bottom where it is warmest, which also has low oxygen AND can be soup-like mud which clogs their gills. Finally, and forgive me if you already know this, but the speckled trout killed during the freeze are not salmonids, but sciaenids, same family as redfish, croaker, whiting, Pacific coastal white sea bass, etc.

Reply to  David S
March 2, 2021 4:44 pm


Reply to  David S
March 2, 2021 5:52 pm

Speckled trout are euryhaline, they adapt their blood electrolytes to the salinity levels of their surroundings from near freshwater to high salinity.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
March 2, 2021 5:43 pm

In Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina trout move to bank edges during hot weather. Especially where there are overhangs on inflowing underground springs.

Fishing a nymph, emerger or soft hackle wet fly produces trout during the hottest weather.

In North Carolina ponds, trout move to the deepest water where the water is shaded; soft hackle Wet fly and dragonfly larvae imitations crawled along the bottom work.

If you’re strictly a dry fly fisherperson, then your best chances are crickets, small beetles or grasshoppers and ants dropped on the bank and pulled till it falls right at the edge. You are unlikely to spot the rise, so watch the leader for movement.

Speckled trout, (a drum named Cynoscion nebulosus and closely related to weakfish), will rise to poppers or jigs/bait hung under a popper float.

While their spotted sides and scales closely resemble those of the salmonidae family, there is a long soft ray dorsal fin behind the dorsal spines on the speckled trout. Salmonidae have dorsal fin and further back as small fleshy adipose fin.

A coworker caught a 6 pound speck while we were at the Chandelier Islands. Made my pan sized specks look like baitfish.

March 1, 2021 7:17 pm

Thank you for contributing this! Lot’s of references, and well said.

The Fringe
March 2, 2021 5:57 am

One of my warnings on twitter ( see the link I but on in response to the Fringe blog) explained the devastating affects of the 1983 and 1989 freezes and how that aspect would be something here. Glad to see someone in the media finally picking up on this!

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