Winter Storm Fish Kill Shuts Down NC Speckled Trout Fishing

In the wake of last week's winter storm, a massive cold-stun kill of speckled trout forced the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries to suspend all commercial and recreational harvests statewide through June 15. The snow and icy runoff proved too much for many speckled trout in shallow coastal creeks and the fish failed to withstand the freezing temperatures, reports North Carolina Sportsman.

Executive Director Dr. Louis Daniel made the announcement Monday at noon, and the suspension will go into effect at 12:01 p.m. on Wednesday. The closure complies with the Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan and is designed to give all surviving trout the chance to spawn in the spring before the season reopens.

"We began the week hopeful that the cold from the arctic vortex of two weeks ago and the hard freeze of late last week had been enough to move the trout out into deeper water where they can weather the cold better," Daniel told North Carolina Sportsman. "Since we had seen so few problems and none of any real consequence from those cold snaps, we were hoping the trout had moved and would fare well. Unfortunately that wasn't the case."

The initial fishing reports after the storm last week weren't too bad, and the NCDMF didn't consider a closure. But when roads and waterways opened fully and fishermen headed to their favorite spots on Saturday, everyone realized just how devastating the storm had been. More reports of dead trout poured in over the weekend, and Daniel knew stock damage was reaching the catastrophic level specified in the management plan.

NCDMF speckled trout biologist Chip Collier said the storm's ice and snow exacerbated the existing threat from cold and freezing temperatures. The storm runoff was colder than the water in the creeks, and it settled straight to the bottom where the trout were hiding. Collier told the website that no one had a good explanation for why the trout hadn't relocated to deeper areas after two severe cold spells earlier this season. This is the first cold-stun kill in the area since January 2011.

The most devastating trout deaths occurred in the Pungo River and its tributary creeks near Belhaven. Fisherman reported floating fish and diving birds everywhere. For more details on the affected areas, visit North Carolina Sportsman.

The Spotted Seatrout FMP is currently under consideration and the NCMF Commission plans to discuss it at their meeting in late February. If changes are accepted to the management plan, it's possible the harvest suspension could be reversed and the season reopened.