Anglers report large numbers of dead speckled trout

  • Speckled Trout  These 28 dead speckled trout were recovered from the bottom of Dancing Creek on February 8, 2014. Dancing Creek is a tributary of the Piankatank River, itself a tributary of Chesapeake Bay.  Photo by Jon Lucy.
  • In Water  Several dead speckled trout (in white) can be seen beneath the surface of this Chesapeake Bay tributary.  Photo by Jon Lucy.
  • Healthy Speck  Beth Synowiec, a volunteer tagger with the Virginia Gamefish Tagging Program, holds a healthy speckled trout that was tagged and released on the Elizabeth River shortly before the current cold-stun event began in late January 2014.  Photo by Wes Blow.
  • Corrotoman River  The Corrotoman River is one locality where cold-stunned speckled trout have been observed in recent weeks. The Corrotoman is a tributary of the Rappahannock River, itself a tributary of Chesapeake Bay. Note the thin skin of ice in the foreground shallows.  Photo by Susanna Musick.
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Magnitude, Extent, and Duration

Accounts of dead and dying speckled trout (Cynoscion nebulosus) began to circulate among recreational anglers in the mid-Atlantic region during the week of  January 19, 2014. The dead fish have also included some other species, including red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus).

A dead speckled trout under thin ice on Dancing Creek on February 8, 2014. Dancing Creek is a tributary of the Piankatank River, itself a tributary of Chesapeake Bay. © Jon Lucy.In Chesapeake Bay, dead and dying trout were first observed on January 25 in Winter Harbor (near Port Haywood in Mathews County) and in the upper Corrotoman River. Reports from other Chesapeake Bay sites increased during the following week, with dead and dying fish reported in the Piankatank River (Dancing, Wilton, and Healy Creeks); the Corrotoman River (both eastern and western branches); and, most recently, the Lynnhaven River (Linkhorn Bay).

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) also began receiving reports of dead and dying speckled trout during the week of  January 19, with initial reports fron the western shore of the Pamlico Sound. Subsequent reports include massive kills in the Pungo River and smaller ones in the Pamlico, Cape Fear, Alligator, Scuppernong, Trent, Neuse, and White Oak Rivers.


The cause of these winter kills has been widely attributed to recurrent outbreaks of cold weather during the 2013-14 winter. Speckled trout are prone to being stunned and killed during times of rapid temperature declines and these sorts of winter kills have been observed in the past, including a minor event last March in a tributary of the North River near Mathews, Virginia. Winter kills are relatively common for populations of speckled trout in Virginia and North Carolina, which are towards the northern limit of the species' range and thus commonly exposed to winter temperature extremes.

Marine Recreation Specialist Susanna Musick of the Marine Advisory Services program at VIMS collects genetic samples from a cold-stunned speckled trout on the Corrotoman River.
VIMS Research

A sample of dying and freshly dead speckled trout from the kill occurring in the Corrotoman River was submitted to the VIMS Fish Disease Diagnostic Laboratory for analysis. Initial investigation indicates that these fish had no infectious or parasitic diseases that might have played a role in the die-off.  A more detailed analysis of these fish is underway.

VIMS researchers are also collecting samples as part of a project investigating the genetics of speckled trout in Virginia.

The Virginia Gamefish Tagging Program (VGFTP) has been investigating speckled trout since 1995.


Recent reports of dead and dying speckled trout in North Carolina waters prompted the NC Division of Marine Fisheries to close all coastal and inland waters to speckled trout fishing beginning on February 5, 2014, with fishing remaining off limits until June 15, 2014. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission will consider actions on this issue at its February 25 meeting.


To report large numbers of dead or dying speckled trout, contact Fisheries Chief Rob O'Reilly of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission at 757.247.2237.