Cold weather causes massive fish kill along beach, Indian River

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The extended cold snap has led to reports of hundreds of dead fish and crabs floating in the ocean and Indian River and led the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to close or extend the closure of fish season for snook, bonefish and tarpon.

Over the weekend hundreds of dead fish and crabs  littered the beaches just south of Vero Beach, near the Seagrove and Castaway Cove developments. Richard Davenport, who lives in Vero Shores on a house on the water, said he took a boat out Saturday in the area of the Moorings and was amazed at what he saw. “It’s just a sad situation,” he said. “Out there it seems like every 20 to 25 feet you’d see another dead fish..usually a two-foot long fish..a lot of lady fish…everywhere you went there were dead fish floating.

“This is very sad, we have such a great river here and to have a fish kill like that— it’s going to take awhile for the river to come back to normal life.”

Glenn Van Hest, a resident of Treasure Cove, said he’s seen dead snook, ladyfish, sand perch, a variety of bait fish, mullet, and puffers on the river. On the beach, he saw dead lookdowns, angel fish, and lots of reef fish, and snapper.

Between the river and ocean, he thinks he’s seen 15 to 18 different species as well as some crabs dead from the cold.

“It is going to diminish the quantity of fish for awhile,” said Van Hest, an avid fisherman. He estimates that water temperatures dipped into the 30s and 40s during the recent cold snap, well below what some of our local species can tolerate.

In response, the FWC issued orders that will allow people to legally dispose of dead fish collected in the water and on shore.

The FWC has temporarily extended the closed fishing seasons for snook statewide until September. It also established temporary statewide closed seasons for bonefish and tarpon until April.

“A proactive, precautionary approach is warranted to preserve our valuable snook, bonefish and tarpon resources,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. “Extending the snook closed season and temporarily closing bonefish and tarpon fishing will protect surviving snook that spawn in the spring and will give research scientists time to evaluate the extent of damage that was done to snook, bonefish and tarpon stocks during the unusual cold-weather period we recently experienced in Florida.”

The FWC did say that anglers will still be allowed to catch and release the affected fish.

The agency temporarily removed harvest regulations for dead saltwater fish and said it will allow fish from Florida’s shoreline and the water to be collected by hand, cast net, dip net or seine.

Anyone collecting fish under the provisions of the order may not sell, trade or consume their catch. In addition, all people taking dead fish under the provisions of the order are not required to possess a saltwater fishing license.

Alina Lambiet contributed to this story.

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