Large Fish Die-Off Reported in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon

There were reports yesterday of a large fish die-off along the west bank of the Indian River Lagoon on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Observers say the majority (if not all) of the dead fish are silver mullet (Mugil curema) with most less than six inches in length. Fish die-offs are not uncommon natural events, especially when external forces lead to oxygen depletion, but given the ongoing issues in the Indian River Lagoon, some observers are fearing something more malignant.  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is today collecting specimens from the fish die-off for lab analysis. They should have the results by early next week.

Schools of silver mullet are common in the salt marshes of the Indian River Lagoon and can be found in large numbers in the Lagoon’s impounded wetlands in the spring. They are currently migrating north. The species is important commercially with a wholesale landing value in the Gulf Coast states from 1994-1998 reported at over $38 million. In addition, there is a sizable recreational fishery.

The Indian River Lagoon is a grouping of three lagoons: Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River, and the Indian River. In addition to its critical ecosystem functions, the Indian River Lagoon is big business in Florida. According to the most recent data, visitors spent over three million person-days in recreation on the lagoon in 2007. Estimated recreational expenditures and recreational use was valued at over $2 billion that year.

A 26 April opinion piece in Florida Today suggested lawmakers are not protecting the Indian River Lagoon as much as they should.

What has happened since the 1960s? The Indian River Lagoon has had algae blooms, the sea grass beds have died, and now dolphins, manatees, pelicans and cormorants are dying. Where is the outrage?

-Barbara Venuto

As one local news source reported recently, 220 manatees have died in the Lagoon in Brevard County since July 2012. Since February of this year, as many as 300 pelicans have been found dead in the same area.

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About Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Mongabay, Discover Magazine, Ocean Geographic and Coral Magazine. He lives on the coast of Maine with his wife, scientific illustrator Karen Talbot.
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One Response to Large Fish Die-Off Reported in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon

  1. Rob says:

    As a kid, I lived in Cocoa Beach during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. We used to clam, oyster, shrimp, fish and cast for mullet in the Banana river. The sea grass beds supported a huge diversity of life in the river. Manatees were everywhere. I went back last year and nothing seems to be alive anymore. There are no sea grasses, no shrimp, no jumping mullet, no nothing. The only life we found were the catfish at the dock’s of the old Pelican Point Inn. A very sad state.

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