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Open Letter To S.M.A.R.T. Members

Gentlemen:

I believe the recreational value of Sam Rayburn Reservoir to the public and the economic value of the reservoir to near by communities is of interest to you and I request your consideration of the information which follows.

In July 1998 there was a significant fish kill on Sam Rayburn Reservoir which was observed and investigated by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TP&W). The specific cause of the fish kill has not been identified.

The 1998 STATE OF TEXAS RESERVOIR WATER QUALITY ASSESSMENT report, prepared by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission Surface Water Quality Monitoring Team contains the following. "The aquatic life use in the Angelina River Arm of Sam Rayburn Reservoir (Segment 0610) is not supported due to depressed dissolved oxygen levels. Dissolved oxygen levels in the Angelina River appear to be naturally depressed. The discharge and assimilation of water from Paper Mill Creek further aggravates these conditions in the reservoir. The contact recreation use is not supported in parts of Sam Rayburn Reservoir and Choke Canyon due to elevated fecal coliform bacteria."

Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) records available through the EPA and Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, document the release of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals each year via surface water and air emissions by Champion Intl. paper mill. Champion was sold in June, 1998 and the mill is now known as Donohue paper mill. In 1996 alone, TRI records indicate that 20,800 lbs. of Ammonia, 4,800 lbs. of Chloroform, 9,400 lbs. of Methanol and other toxic chemicals were released by Champion Intl. into the surface water flowing into Sam Rayburn Reservoir via Paper Mill Creek.

You should also be aware that the quantities of herbicides and pesticides which are released in the Sam Rayburn Reservoir watershed can not be determined. There is no agency having authority to monitor the quantity of such releases.

As previously stated, the cause of the 1998 fish kill has not been identified and the above information is only intended to provide information particularly relevant to water quality and aquatic life.

Any objective comparison of recent tournament weigh in results to previous years results supports the conclusion that there has been a significant reduction in productivity of the Rayburn fishery subsequent to the 1998 fish kill. Consider the following.  

BEST FIVE BIG BASS TOURNAMENT WEIGHT COMPARISON

TOURNAMENT PLACE
/
FIVE HEAVIEST FISH

May 98
Rayburn
McDonalds
/
INDIVIDUAL FISH
Wt.-LBS
(three days)

March 99
Rayburn Outdoor Adventure
/
INDIVIDUAL FISH
Wt.-LBS
(three days)

March 99
Conroe
Texas Bass Championship
/
INDIVIDUAL FISH
Wt.-LBS
(two days)

April 99
Rayburn
McDonalds
/
INDIVIDUAL FISH
Wt.-LBS
(three days)

1st

12.1

8.57

11.04

8.84

2nd

11.6

8.26

9.88

8.51

3RD

11.4

8.23

8.94

8.36

4TH

11.2

8.05

8.90

8.26

5TH

10.7

7.82

8.36

8.15

AVERAGE

11.4

8.19

9.32*

8.4

With reference to the preceding table, it must be concluded that Sam Rayburn is not only less productive this year than last, it is currently less productive than Lake Conroe and Lake Fork. The Texas Bass Championship tournament (*) was a two day tournament held on Lake Conroe. Conroe is approximately one-third the size of Sam Rayburn yet it produced better quality fish in a two day tourney than Rayburn has produced in two 1999 three day events. Furthermore, Rayburn has not provided a single fish to TP&W for their "share a lunker" big bass reproduction program this year. There were five produced by Rayburn last year. This year Lake Fork, a small lake in comparison to Rayburn, provided ten and Lake Conroe two.

As evidence of continued degradation of the fishery consider the recent Everstart tournament results in which a five fish 13 lb. catch collected a first place check of $35,000 and a 11+ lb. second place catch collected $10,000. Contestants were actually awarded checks for two and three fish catches per day in this April, 1999 tournament. People with moderate fishing skills consistently did much better than this last fall, after the fish kill. The April 1999 Everstart tournament results may represent a new low for Rayburn productivity.

More recently, many of the bass and other species being caught on this reservoir have external lesions (sores) not caused by prior catch and release or natural predators. Furthermore, aquatic grasses in the reservoir which were healthy a month ago are now dead or dying. Please, do not accept the premise that catch and release is the cause.

In summary, a significant fish kill occurred in 1998. The 1998 reservoir water quality assessment says aquatic life is not supported in the upper arm of the reservoir, and its not safe to swim, ski, or dive in. The Texas Department of Health recommends limited consumption of fish taken from the reservoir because of Mercury content. These and other current warning signs do not support an assumption that the fish kill was a one time event and with certainty, do not indicate that the lake is on the way to recovery. I hope it is recognized that such an assumption (if erroneous) could prove disastrous to the Sam Rayburn fishery and to the communities economically dependent upon the fishery. Accordingly, I urge you to support in every way possible the identification and remedy of the causes of the 1998 fish kill and decline in productivity of the Sam Rayburn Fishery.

Walter 

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