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Artificial reefs crucial to keeping Gulf healthy

By the Advocate Editorial Board
June 17, 2017 at 3:42 p.m.

Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is a popular pastime for a growing number of recreational fishermen.

It is also a vital place to sustain the livelihood of commercial fishermen.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, in partnership with other conservation-minded organizations and businesses, is working to keep marine life plentiful in the Gulf with the development of artificial reefs.

One of the largest such reefs was recently completed off the coast of Port O'Connor, a haven for fishermen and marine life alike. The reef includes two abandoned and sunken oil platforms and 700 pyramids made of limestone that were lowered into the water. The deepest part of this 381-acre reef is 66 feet.

While this isn't the state's first venture into artificial reefs, it is important work that has to be done to keep the marine life growing because in part it feeds our economy and helps balance our environment.

It will take time for the marine life to catch on to the new habitats put there to replace the disappearing oil and gas platforms that fish and other marine life like to live around.

The growth of the habitats will be closely monitored by Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Crews will take samplings of marine life, recording types, size and number of fish caught. The fish are taken back to the lab to be studied for various health measurement.

Conservation projects like this are vital to the environment and the economy. It will help researchers keep up with the health of the Gulf as well as its marine life.

Researchers will also learn what types of fish are using these habitats. They will be able to monitor their growth as well.

This will help in determining the length of fishing seasons for such popular fish as the red snapper. Red snapper season in federal waters is abbreviated this year to give the species time to reproduce and grow to legal catching limits.

The reef project is not unique to Gulf waters. Conservationists have built artificial reefs all over the world using abandoned oil and gas platforms, old ships and pieces of concrete, among other large objects. Most appear to be successful.

So far, Texas has 86 artificial reefs, 14 of which are in state waters.

This project, called the Texas Parks and Wildlife Artificial Reef Program, has the potential to continue to grow. Project developers want to build artificial reefs near every port along the Texas coast.

This would be a worthwhile but expensive undertaking.

The Port O'Connor reef cost an estimated $1 million with funding coming from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the Coastal Conservation Association of Texas and the national Coastal Conservation Association's Building Conservation Trust.

It takes a lot of work to keep the Gulf waters thriving. With the continued dedication of the state, conservationists, researchers, businesses and concerned people, the projects should continue and the work will be successful.

The reefs have the potential to provide enough fish for fishermen to fish for generations to come and for fishermen to come up with unlimited fishing stories to tell for a lifetime.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.


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