Fifty-five years of fish kills in coastal Texas
The designation of Texas as a hotspot for fish mortalities relative to the other 22 coastal US states is of serious concern for scientists, resource managers, and the public alike. We investigated the major sources and causes of fish kills in coastal Texas from 1951 to 2006. During this 55-year period, more than 383 million fish were killed, 72% of which were Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia spp.). We examined the relationships between climate and the physical features of Texas bays and estuaries as well as the consequences of high-density industrialization and urbanization along several coastal centers on fish kills, including the impact of eutrophication, algal blooms (toxic and nontoxic), and hypoxia. Galveston and Matagorda Bays had the highest number of fish kill events and total number of fish killed. The largest number of fish kill events and the highest number of fish killed occurred during the warmest months, particularly in August. The leading cause of fish kills was found to be low dissolved oxygen concentrations caused by both physical and biological factors. From 1958 to 1997, about two thirds of the mortalities from low oxygen concentrations were caused by human activities. With the population predicted to double in Texas by 2050, mostly along the coastal areas, natural resources will require additional protection. Further increases in nutrient loading are expected in areas unable to keep up with construction of sewage treatment facilities. Defining the sources and causes of fish kill events in Texas will allow better management and conservation efforts.