- A big kill of big, bull redfish on the Alabama and Mississippi border
- Reports from Point Clear and the eastern shore of Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan, Dauphin Island and Grand Bay.
- Dead fish stacked on beaches.
- “I’m sick to my stomach,” say anglers and residents.
It began Mar. 20, when the Alabama Marine Resources Division started getting reports from coastal anglers, boaters and residents near the mouth of Mobile Bay that dead redfish were seen floating in tideline rips and washing up onto area beaches.
While die-offs of large redfish in that area are not uncommon, this one appears to be uncommonly large, and happening earlier in the year than usual.
A Facebook and YouTube video of dead redfish floating in open water near the mouth of Mobile Bay got the attention of anglers, boaters, coastal homeowners, and state fisheries biologists who were quick to the scene.
Capt. Blake Michaleski made a video of dead redfish floating along a tide rip and near shoreline jetties and posted it to Facebook. All of the fish were large.
“I’m sick to my stomach,” Michaleski reported. “Hundreds of breeder bull reds dead along the tideline at the mouth of Mobile Bay. Talked to a couple of others that were just west of me. One said he estimated a thousand, the other said way more than a thousand.”
Michaleski said dead redfish were reported in Weeks Bay, off Mobile Bay, and in Mississippi Sound just west of Mobile Bay.
Since then, the count of dead redfish has increased, as has the range in which they’ve been found, with reports from Point Clear and the eastern shore of Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan, Dauphin Island and Grand Bay.
“I made photos of a pile of big brooder redfish a homeowner had stacked along County Road 1, south of Weeks Bay,” says Capt. Kevin Olmstead, of Fairhope. “They’re all over Point Clear, on the beaches, rocks, just everywhere.
“A buddy of mine ran his boat west to Petis Bois Island [in Mississippi Sound] and said there were miles of them washed up on the beaches.”
Olmstead believes most of the videos of fresh dead fish were filmed in the Gulf of Mexico because “the water in those videos is clear.” Mobile bay is muddy from rain, wind and tides, so he thinks the fish died in the Gulf and have been washing into Mobile Bay and coastal beach areas.
Authorities from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Ala. Department of Public Health are researching what caused the redfish kill. But as most of the redfish were decomposing when found dead, analysis of fish to learn what caused the kill is difficult.
Scientists have collected water samples to learn if there may be organisms present that have been known to kill fish.
The state has ruled out commercial fishing and fish entanglement so far. Possible causes noted by the state include oxygen depletion, algal bloom, and a bacterial or toxin release of some type.
More and “fresher” redfish have continued to die and be recovered for scientists to inspect in recent days near Mobile Bay, which could help shed more light on the matter.
In an off-the-record discussion about the redfish kill, one person with knowledge of the event offered some theories and insight.
When asked why only brood-size redfish were dying, not smaller redfish, nor seatrout, flounder or other species, the person said scientists have noted that and are looking into it.
Given that only large, mature redfish were killed, it would seem logical that the origin of the kill would be in deeper, Gulf Of Mexico water, which is where the bulk of big reds are found now. Large schools of heavy reds don’t make a push inshore until spawning season in autumn.
Our source agreed, but said that there may be some other toxin or bacteriological cause behind the kill.
“It’s not isolated to just Mobile Bay,” they said, “but the whole system. Most of the fish are found in tidal flows and tide lines, so it’s difficult to know where the kill occurred. And it’s not over yet, as fresh-dead fish continue to be found.”
Ben Avritt woke up the morning of the 24th to find 30 big dead reds washed up on his small section of beach in Point Clear, Alabama, on the eastern side of Mobile Bay.
“The beach to the south of this one and the four beaches to the north looked the same,” he said. “It was very smelly around here last week.”