TPWD News Release — May 28, 2007
ATHENS, Texas—When two massive hurricanes severely damaged the freshwater fisheries throughout Mississippi in 2006, Ron Garavelli, Director of the Mississippi Fisheries Bureau, did exactly what anyone in a disaster situation does—he turned to his neighbors for help.
Garavelli went to the annual meeting of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in Norfolk, Virginia, in October 2006 and appealed to the directors of wildlife agencies from other states for help.
Phil Durocher, Director of the Inland Fisheries Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), and Robert L. Cook, Executive Director of TPWD, were at the meeting, and they quickly agreed to help.
Fast forward to May 23, 2007, the peak of the largemouth bass spawning season in Texas. Early that morning fisheries technicians and biologists at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) in Athens loaded 250,000 Florida largemouth bass fingerlings on a truck and sent them on their way to the Turcotte Fish Hatchery just north of Jackson, Mississippi. From there the fish were distributed to lakes in northern and western Mississippi.
“The fish from Texas allow us to use fish from our Gulf Coast hatcheries for stocking coastal streams while maintaining our management practices in other lakes as well,” said Tom Holman, Fisheries Coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Parks. “We had offers of help from virtually every southeastern state.”
Providing the fish required no special effort on the part of Texas, said Jim Matthews, Hatchery Manager at TFFC. “We raise as many Florida largemouth bass as we can every year, and we are never able to produce enough to meet all our stocking requests,” Matthews said. “We simply put Mississippi at the top of the priority list to receive fish. It’s typical to have interstate cooperation. They help us when we need it, and we help them when they need it.”
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service lent a hand as well. “We got involved because we are the most convenient facility for delivering the fish from Texas to Mississippi,” said Karen Kilpatrick, Manager of the Natchitoches [Louisiana] National Fish Hatchery. “We are centrally located, and we have a big truck—normally used for stocking paddlefish—that holds 900 gallons and can carry that many fingerling bass.”
While it might seem unusual for fish from Texas, South Carolina, Kentucky and Alabama to wind up swimming in Mississippi waters, it’s really no big deal, says Kilpatrick. “This is just another routine thing we do for the resource,” she said. “We do this kind of thing every single day for the public to be able to enjoy the legacy and the heritage of fishing, hurricane or not.”
Mississippi anglers will benefit for years from the aid offered by their neighbors. “Our freshwater habitat took a real hit,” said Garavelli. “Massive fish kills resulted from saltwater intrusion caused by the storm surge and from oxygen depletion as debris washed into lakes and rivers decayed. This stocking will increase the chances of a quick comeback of those species lost as a result of the storms.”