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Fishing in the Houston Ship Channel

Fishing in the Houston Ship Channel (1970's)

PortandTerminal.com, November 6, 2019

HOUSTON, TX – You may be surprised to learn that you can not only go fishing in Houston’s Ship Channel, but you can also hook a wide range of different fish species. You won’t be surprised though to find out that no one recommends eating anything that you catch. It’s definitely “catch and release” in these waters.

The Houston Ship Channel

Key: 1. Houston Ship Channel 2. Galveston Bay, home to a large commercial fishery

The Houston Ship Channel, aka “The Petrochemical Capital of the Word” is part of the Port of Houston.  The channel is the conduit for ocean-going vessels between Houston-area terminals and the Gulf of Mexico, and it also serves an increasing volume of inland barge traffic.

Petrochemical capital of the world

The Port of Houston is a 25-mile-long complex of nearly 200 private and public industrial terminals along the 52-mile-long Houston Ship Channel. 

The Channel is home to nearly 200 of refineries including Exxon Mobil’s Baytown refinery, the second-largest oil refinery in the United States. It is also the home to Intercontinental Terminals, the site of the massive chemical fire that burned for days last March.

The Intercontinental Terminals tanker fire burned for days last March sending black smoke across Houston and resulting in the closure of the Houston Ship Channel.

Fishing in the Houston Ship Channel

Large catfish caught by a young fisherman along the Houston Ship Channel – “I’m so surprised to catch something like that in this nasty ship channel water” (Bayou City Fishing)

There are surprisingly lots of fish to be caught in the Houston Ship Channel including largemouth bass, grass carp, striped mullet and red shiner. There’s also American eel, longnose and spotted gar and four types of catfish: channel, blue, yellow bullhead and armored.

American eel are amongst many species of fish that are found in the Houston Ship Channel

While some species in the channel are surviving, others seem to be actually thriving. A recent Baylor University study finds that the Gulf killifish — a large minnow common found in the Houston Ship Channel, has adapted to the high levels of pollution in the channel and is doing well.

The Gulf killifish has adapted to pollution levels in the Houston Ship Channel

Eating your catch is not recommended, however. A catch-and-release fishing policy is advised for anglers at Buffalo Bayou, according to Texas Department of Health and Human Services (HHSC).

John Fuller of Houston ignores a sign that warns against eating fish from the area while crabbing along the East Freeway Service Road just west of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.

consumption advisory for all waters connecting to the ship channel reads in part, “Consumption of blue crab and fish from the Houston Ship Channel and the San Jacinto River below the Lake Houston Dam may pose a threat to human health.”

Chemicals of Concern: Dioxins and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – Persons should not consume blue crabs or any species of fish from these waters.

 Texas Department of State Health Services 

Galveston Bay commercial fishing

Galveston Bay shrimp boats

Further down the Houston Ship Channel towards the Gulf of Mexico is Galveston Bay, the source of 1/3 of Texas’ commercial fishing income. Galveston Bay supports a population of finfish totalling more than 162 species.

One hundred years ago commercial fishing in Galveston Bay was fairly balanced between finish and oysters. Today finfish make up about 5% of the total Bay harvest, averaging 1.5 million pounds yearly. The other 95% consists of shrimp, crabs, and oysters.

Galveston Bay is the only bay in Texas where oyster harvesting happens year-round

Last May, the Texas Department of State Health Services warned people not to eat any seafood from the Galveston Bay area, and it halted oyster harvesting in the bay indefinitely. The cause was a chemical spill upstream in the Houston Ship Channel that caused thousands of fish, crabs and other to wash up dead on beaches surrounding Galveston Bay.

 A variety of fish washed up onto conservation nonprofit Galveston Bay Foundation’s property in Kemah, Texas on May 13, 2019, following a barge incident in the Houston Ship Channel that released 9,000 barrels of gasoline product in the water

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