When most, but certainly not all, Louisianans breathed a sigh of deep relief after Hurricane Isaac brought his own special brand of tropical destruction, state Wildlife and Fisheries’ biologists were just starting on their post-storm evaluations.
And they’re not even close to taking that sighing breath.
A week after the storm cleared the southern parishes, fisheries biologist Melissa Keintz and State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds were assessing what the storm means and could mean to the state’s sportsmen.
Keintz said Wednesday and Thursday were the busiest: The department’s Inland Fisheries Division answered dozens of calls from folks seeing increasing numbers of dead fish.
“We had several in Livingston Parish and the upper Barataria Bay area had an extensive fish kill,” Keintz said.
“We’ve had reports from the eastern edge of the Atchafalaya Basin, and more from the canals north of Lake Verret and in Lake Verret,” Keintz said. “It’s pretty widespread.”
Worse still is that she said there likely will be more dead fish in the coming days because several parishes continue to battle floodwaters.
“In every instance (reported kills), it’s obvious that floodwaters pushed up, and when the waters receded it brought organic material with it.
“When the (air and water) temperatures begin to rise after the storm, the organics begin to decompose and that takes oxygen from the water,’ Keintz said.
When combined with surges in winds and waves that stir the bottoms of shallow-water areas, that heavy organic load depletes dissolved oxygen in the water to the point where it cannot support aquatic life. It’s the same combination that left the Atchafalaya Basin and the nearby Verret Basin void of fish 20 years ago after Hurricane Andrew rolled over both basins.
But Isaac didn’t carry the same punch as did Andrew.
“We’re not seeing anything as bad as Andrew,” Keintz said. “And the coastal fish populations appear to be OK.”
Reynolds’ concerns centered on waterfowl habitat and Saturday’s opener of the special 16-day teal season.
“I’m a little less concerned about teal hunting based on what I saw from Hurricane Isaac.” Reynolds said.
“Teal like submerged vegetation and like to feed in ripped-up marsh, so as long as the water gets down, the teal are going to come.
“As long as the guys can safely get out in southeast Louisiana, I think they’re going to find birds.”
Reynolds said he and his staff begin their mid-September aerial survey Monday, a day after the season’s first major cold front is predicted to push cooler air over coastal Louisiana.
“The cold front can’t do anything but help,” he said, adding that post-Isaac reports indicated the storm moved early arriving teal.
Reynolds said last week’s first report came from Delta National Refuge along the Mississippi River near Venice.
“We heard there were huge numbers there, but (biologist) Todd Baker flew over Biloxi Marsh, Salvador, Delacroix and Reggio and said he saw five bluewings (teal) the whole time,” Reynolds said.
He said another field report showed marshes in the Davis Pond area “looked great, and from the air the guys said the storm reduced the water hyacinth, improved access and that the (submerged) grass is still there, but it’s obvious that the Pass a Loutre, Biloxi, Delacroix and Reggio areas took a hit.
“All those are areas east of the Mississippi River looked pretty rough.”
He said the Pointe-Aux-Chenes south of Houma and the upper marshes in Terrebonne Parish were not heavily impacted by the storm and the Atchafalaya Delta area “has some brown (dying) lotus, but there’s not that much damage.”
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