Bass Times: Storms hurt Louisiana freshwater fisheries

BATON ROUGE, La. — Preliminary estimates indicate at least 165 million fish were killed by the one-two punch of hurricanes Gustav and Ike, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reported in early October.

 "That's just what we saw. It could be 10 times that," LDWF's Joey Shepard told BASS Times. "We can't see them all."

Biologists estimate that 6 to 10 percent of the fish killed were bass, Shepard said.

More concrete numbers will not be available until water conditions stabilize and sampling can be conducted over the next few months, he added.

 "We're going to get out and shock and actually see what we have. That will allow us to come back with better numbers."

Hurricane Gustav blasted into the Louisiana coastline Sept. 1, and Ike made landfall near Galveston, Texas, Sept. 13.

 Shepard said the storms created very different problems within the state's fisheries. "With Gustav, where we lost a lot of fish was not from storm surge," he explained. "We had a lot of rain that flooded the backwater areas, and when all that drained, fish got caught in anoxic water.

 "Ike didn't have any rain with it [in Louisiana], but the storm surge was unbelievable."

 An estimated 133 million of the dead fish came from south-central Louisiana, with the Atchafalaya Basin being hit especially hard.

 "The basin was the worst," Shepard said. "Some isolated areas still have some fish, but for the most part it's devastated."

Hurricane Ike's storm surge, which pushed high-salinity water into freshwater areas, caused kills in areas that had escaped Gustav largely untouched.

"Areas that weren't flooded for Gustav got flooded for Ike, and we did get fish kills," Shepard said.

The marsh south of Houma, where Kevin VanDam won his first Classic, was a prime example of this phenomenon.

 "That's where Ike had the biggest impact," Shepard said.

The rivers and bayous leading into lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain, located north and northwest of New Orleans, also were devastated by this surge.

 "We lost pretty much all of that Blind River area [which empties into Lake Maurepas],"

Shepard said. "That's a shame because we've been stocking that area for three years, and our crews were finding 16 to 18 percent Florida [bass] influence.

 "Another year or two, and it could have been awesome in that area. People would have been catching big fish."

 Fisheries biologists estimate most of the impacted fisheries could recover in only a couple of years. Recovery of Lake Cataouatche and its connected waterways, for instance, is estimated by the end of two years.

 However, some areas could take much longer.

 "We're looking at probably five years before we get some good fishing back in the Atchafalaya Basin," Shepard said.

 Shepard said his agency would continue to sample affected waters to monitor salinity and dissolved oxygen levels. As water conditions improve, recovery will begin.

 "Once those areas start getting back to normal, those fish [that survived] can filter back in there," he said.

 While stocking is being considered to help rebuild these fisheries, Shepard said natural recovery will be a huge factor.

 "I think there's going to be a tremendous spawn this spring," he said. "We'll have much better survival rates."

 Fish kills by region

 South Central Louisiana — 133 million

 Southwest Louisiana — 29 million

 Northeast Louisiana — 250,000

 Estimated recovery

 Alchalalaya Basin/Houma marshes — 3 to 5 years

 Lake Mauepas/Lake Pontchrtrin rivers — 3 to 5 years

 Pearl River basin/east of Mississippi River — 2 years

 Lake Cataouatche and Salvador/Lac des Allemanda — 1 to 2 years

 Northeast Louisiana — several months to 2 years

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