BRUNSWICK — For the second consecutive winter, lower-than-normal temperatures in coastal Georgia drove down estuarine water temperatures to lethal levels for some marine organisms.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and many anglers are concerned about the status of species that support the state’s commercial and recreational saltwater-fishing activities.
“Water temperatures in the mid-to-low 40s are lethal to over-wintering white shrimp and some fish species, such as spotted sea trout,” said Spud Woodward, director of the Coastal Resources Division of DNR. “We documented such water temperatures during a mid-December cold snap, again in late December and on some occasions in January.”
In early December, the coastwide catch of white shrimp in the DNR trawl surveys was 11 percent above the long-term average. In mid-December, a cold snap caused the water temperatures in tidal rivers and creeks to plummet from the mid 50s to the low 40s in just a few days.
Coastal Georgia continued to experience abnormally cold temperatures throughout December and into January. By February, the coastwide catch of white shrimp was 95 percent below the long-term average, and this trend continued in March with catches still 92 percent below average.
“The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources also documented very low shrimp abundance in their tidal rivers and creeks and requested NOAA Fisheries to close federal waters off their state to shrimp trawling for April until early June,” said Patrick Geer, chief of marine fisheries for DNR. “Georgia DNR did not make a similar request, but we’ll likely delay the opening of state waters to food shrimp harvest so we allow more of the shrimp that survived the winter to spawn before being caught.”
Angler reports and observation by state natural resource agency staff indicate that sea trout populations in the Carolinas and Georgia also suffered from the cold winter. The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries prohibited the harvest of spotted sea trout in mid-January as a measure to conserve their surviving fish.
For more, pick up a copy of the May 11 edition of the News.