‘We’ve seen this before’: What recent reports of low oxygen levels mean for area fish

Submitted photo

Almost two weeks ago, I cast-netted over a dozen finger mullet in a main creek on the north side of Murrells Inlet, placed them in a bait bucket and immediately put them in the water alongside my 15-foot Key West Sportsman.

It was a balmy early August morning, with the Lowrance Hook 7 showing a water temperature of 86.5 degrees at 8 a.m.

No more than 20 minutes later, most of the 2-4 inch finger mullet were dead when I went to get another bait.

August is a month known for high water temperatures and low oxygen levels. Is the inlet currently in a danger zone regarding the dissolved oxygen levels in the water?

Dr. Susan Libes is a professor of Marine Science and Chemistry at Coastal Carolina University and director of the Waccamaw Watershed Academy and Environmental Quality Lab.

In short, Libes is the expert when water quality issues arise along the Grand Strand in either salt or fresh water.

Earlier this week, Libes pointed out water testing is done every other week in two locations in Murrells Inlet by local volunteers — in the Mt. Gilead area on the north end of the inlet and at Shell Landing just north of Huntington Beach State Park. The sampling has been done since 2008.

Libes noted that the dissolved oxygen level at the Shell Landing had dropped to 3.1 milligrams per liter on July 9.

“We use 4 milligrams per liter as the point when fish are starting to show stress,” said Libes. “The combination of low oxygen and high (water) temperature can be contributing factors (to fish stress). We do see this seasonally (but) this wasn’t a record for us.”

At Shell Landing, the dissolved oxygen reading was below 4 milligrams per liter from the end of May through the end of July, according to the sampling.

On August 13, two days after the finger mullet met a quick demise in the bait bucket, the reading was back in a safer zone, at 5.1 milligrams per liter.

Libes researched previous years and found the 3.1 reading was certainly a low one for the inlet. Libes also pointed out a potential solution to perhaps help alleviate the low dissolved oxygen levels recorded in summer in the inlet.

“We’ve seen this before but not since about 2011,” said Libes. “One thing from a management standpoint to be considered by the community for improving water quality is dredging. That would improve water depth and oxygen concentration, but that’s a whole other discussion to have.”

Bassmaster Junior Championship

Cody Wilder and Dalton Williams of Conway Middle School competed in the

Bassmaster Junior Championship in Huntingdon, Tenn., earlier this month.

The duo wound up finishing in 23rd place out of 62 two-man teams fishing in the two-day competition.

The event was held on Carroll County 1000-Acre Recreational Lake, quite a small body of water compared to Lake Murray, where the duo finished second in the South Carolina middle school championship in April to qualify for the national tournament .

“We knew it was going to be small, but it fished small,” said David Wilder, Cody’s dad and the duo’s captain. “Half of the water, there was no fish there, which made the lake even smaller. We were fishing within 20 yards of each other. If you were fishing a point, you shared it with three or four other boats.”

Wilder and Williams were in 43rd place after the first day of fishing but finished strong.

“The boys caught 14-15 fish a day but size (12-inch minimum) was hard to come by,” said David Wilder. “We met teams that didn’t catch any fish all four days.

On Day One, they weighed in four fish for an aggregate of 4.3 pounds. On the second day, they caught a limit of five fish weighing 6.4 pounds for a two-day aggregate of 1.7 pounds.

“There were not many big fish caught, and those that did automatically went to the top of the leader board,” said David Wilder.”There were 10 fish over three pounds caught in the tournament.”

It was a great experience for the boys, and the captain.

“It was a blast,” said David Wilder. “A the hotel, we stayed with 7-8 other teams. They bonded with the other teams and made new friends from around the country.”

The local fishing community chipped in to help finance the trip for the team, and they were grateful.

“It was a huge, huge help,” said David Wilder. “The community definitely stepped up and helped us out.”

SAFMC Meeting

The current status of red snapper in the South Atlantic Region is a big issue, and fishermen will have their chance to voice their opinion at an upcoming South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting in Charleston.

The meeting is set for September 16-20 at the Town and Country Inn, located at 2008 Savannah Highway in Charleston.

The council will consider alternatives to modify start dates, days of the week and minimum number of fishing days required for opening future red snapper seasons, among other topics.

A formal public comment session will be held on Sept. 18 beginning at 4 p.m. An online comment form will be available for written comments, and the meeting will be available via webinar as it occurs.

For more information, visit SAFMC.net.