Category Archives: BP Oil Disaster

A Big Step Forward for Better Rigs To Reef Management

A large group of chub (Kyphosus sp.) school under the platform. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS (From NOAA)

As I’ve written before, the Rigs to Reefs permitting process of the federal and state agencies in the Gulf of Mexico is a good example of “finding ways that work.”  This cooperative process enables the owners of oil and gas platforms to use those structures to support artificial reefs.  In fact, this means the rigs continue serving as artificial reefs because they have already attracted fish, coral, and other marine life as the rigs produced oil or gas.

Over the past few years, the issue of rig removal has become a heated topic among anglers as the federal government undertook more aggressive measures to remove retired rigs.  The officials responsible for safe retirement of end-of-service rigs and the anglers and divers who benefit from the marine life around those rigs have been at odds over the best ways to maintain reef habitats while also providing for other uses of the Gulf. That tension was reduced this week when the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, a division of the Department of Interior, issued a new policy addressing several sticking points that arose in recent years.  Most of the log jam has been caused by basic questions of process:  how many rigs would remain as reef habitat, where would they be placed, and how would they be secured?

The pressure built as the number of rigs reaching the end of their productive life and the end of their leases began to rise.  Starting in 2005, the number of applications for removals spiked, and Hurricane Katrina damaged even more platforms and disrupted existing artificial reefs.  These pressures complicated the challenge for the Department of Interior to assure safe disposition of an increasing number of platforms.

In 2010 – after the Deepwater Horizon disaster – the department issued a notice to lease-holders that it was modifying procedures to ensure faster removals in the interest of safety.  Anglers and divers began to see more rigs being removed, and many were removed using explosives that would leave hundreds of dead fish floating in the wake of the project.

The clamor, however, also involved effective coordination among all concerned.  The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, working with the White House National Ocean Council, the other cabinet agencies, scientists, and stakeholders, developed changes to policy that will ease the process.  Sportsmen groups such as the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation played a leading role.  EDF, after stepping forward as an early supporter of revising the 2010 policy, encouraged and supplied data to these discussions.  We are proud to say that we were the only major ENGO to speak out for the interests of anglers in this debate.

The most important features of the new policy are that it drops the requirement for distance between reef sites, adds an allowance for creating a reef where a rig currently stands, and extends deadlines for removal for platform owners seeking approval for a reefing project.

This improved approach is a step in the right direction, and we are hopeful that it will lead to better fish habitat, populations, and recreational opportunities.  It is especially welcome as reef-fish issues and red snapper management in particular are hot topics in the Gulf right now.

Congratulations are due to all those who are dedicated to finding ways that work.

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Bridging the Gulf Report: Preparing for Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration in Cuba

Oil Rig, Photo Credit: Vidar Løkken

Reprinted with Permission from Center for Democracy in the Americas Center for Democracy in the Americas (September 7, 2012)

The following article was written by Dan Whittle, EDF’s Cuba Program Director for the Oceans Program, and featured on CenterforDemocracyInAmerica.org. In the article, Dan discusses our new report, Bridging the Gulf, which gives great insight into the roadblocks that existing U.S. foreign policy on Cuba has on making environmental protection progress. The article also dives into the constructive conversations the two countries have been having about ways to improve communications and policy keeping the best interest of the environment in mind.

The Environmental Defense Fund recently released a report called Bridging the Gulf, in which we concluded that "current U.S. foreign policy on Cuba creates a conspicuous blind spot" that is detrimental to the interests of both countries.  A failure to cooperate on oil spill planning, prevention, and response in the Gulf of Mexico could result in devastating environmental and economic impacts on a scale greater than the 2010 BP oil disaster.

Recently, I witnessed a potential bright spot in US-Cuba relations that could lead to real and meaningful cooperation in protecting Cuban and American shores from future oil spills. Read More »

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Now In Your H-E-B, Gulf Wild™ Seafood

Gulf Wild™ Red Snapper and Grouper

Photo courtesy of Gulf Wild™

It wasn’t that long ago that the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery was on the brink of collapse.  The fishermen were stuck in a race-for-fish that was both dangerous and expensive.

Fishermen were going out of business or barely hanging on, and the red snapper population was in serious trouble.  The out-dated fishery management system wasn’t working, and consumers could only count on getting fresh, local snapper during a brief season every year. That was until a group of commercial fishermen and EDF came together to find a solution.

That solution – the red snapper catch share program – began in 2007.  Because this program proved successful almost immediately, fishermen were able to expand the program to include grouper and tilefish in 2010.  This has helped to make commercial fishing a viable industry again, consumers are able to get fish they love year-round, the amount of wasted fish has dramatically decreased, and once depleted populations are steadily rebuilding. Read More »

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On the RESTORE Act, Two Steps Forward, One Meaningless Gesture Back

Snapper boats dockedLast night the House and Senate agreed to compromise language on a broad set of initiatives referred to as the transportation bill.  Included in this “must-pass” bill is legislation dealing with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill known as the RESTORE Act.  There is much to applaud in this bill; for example, it provides important funding for fisheries science and research.  It’s too bad it also contains an empty political gesture against a fishery management tool that has benefitted the Gulf’s fishermen.

The RESTORE Act directs the penalties received by the federal government as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster to the affected region, including, at Senator Nelson’s particular insistence, providing funding for research to “support . . . the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem, fish stocks, fish habitat, and the recreational, commercial, and charter fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico.”  At a time of scarce funds and great need, this effort will help the marine resources and fishermen of the Gulf recover from the blow they suffered two years ago.

Unfortunately, the bill also contains a gratuitous slap at the region’s fishermen by prohibiting the use of the funds provided in the bill for the development or approval of new catch share programs along the east coast or the Gulf of Mexico.  The catch share language echoes an amendment previously offered by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) – but here it means absolutely nothing given a separate prohibition on using the money for any form of fisheries regulation. Read More »

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EDF Stands With Fishermen In Calling for Suspension of Rig Removal Policy

By Jack Sterne, Director of Strategic Initiatives

Jack Sterne, EDF's Director of Strategic Initiatives

Anyone who’s enjoyed fishing in the Gulf of Mexico can share a story about how great the fishing is around an oil rig. Fish love structure, and I know my fishing is always better around these types of hot spots.  A downed tree, a dock, a live reef, or an artificial reef – all of these places typically produce great fishing and any fisherman worth his or her salt knows to target them.

That’s why it’s so disconcerting to the Gulf’s recreational fishermen that the Department of Interior has announced its intention to begin enforcing a long-dormant policy requiring the removal of non-producing drilling rigs in the Gulf.  Requiring the blanket removal of these rigs threatens to rob the Gulf of some of its favorite fishing spots. In addition, under a balanced management plan, providing for fishing access and designed for population productivity, the non-producing rigs may be useful in enhancing fish stocks in places where habitat is limiting.

Given these facts, the Department of Interior should halt its plan for blanket removal of these rigs. Recent legislation (S. 1555) introduced by Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana would help modify the policy requiring rig removal and create a “Reef Maintenance Fund” that would finance the maintenance of the artificial reefs created by decommissioned rigs.  Rig owners would be required to contribute approximately half of the cost they would have incurred in removing the rig had they chosen not to participate in the program. Read More »

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BP Oil Disaster One Year Later

BP Oil Spill clean up in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP Oil disaster clean up site in the Gulf of Mexico.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the tragic BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil well blowout took 11 lives and likely forever changed the rich marine ecosystem of the Gulf. After 87 days and over four million barrels of oil released, the spewing well was finally capped, but not before it killed thousands of birds and other marine life and caused additional hardship for fishermen and coastal communities during an already-struggling economy.

Looking back a year later on the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, efforts to fully restore the environmental and economic health of the Gulf and its coastal communities continue. As EDF’s Chief Oceans Scientist, Doug Rader, explains in the Austin Statesman, “A full year after the blowout, we are still struggling, as a society, to assess the ecological and human costs from our nation’s worst oil disaster, to understand how to heal – or offset – the worst damage, and to limit future risks associated with America’s offshore energy industries.”

Read Doug Rader’s full opinion article as well as recent EDF press releases on pending legislation for the Gulf of Mexico restoration.

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Environmental Defense Fund Partners with Gulf Fishermen to Launch Gulf Wild™ Seafood Assurance Program

Gulf Wild

myGulfWild.com

In a bold effort to restore consumer confidence in Gulf of Mexico seafood, EDF is working with a group of forward-looking Gulf fishermen and other conservation and fishery improvement organizations to launch a new seafood assurance campaign called Gulf Wild™. The Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, a trade organization of fishermen in the individual fishing quota (IFQ) catch share program for Gulf red snapper and grouper, developed Gulf Wild™ in collaboration with EDF to help consumers, chefs, and retailers identify responsibly managed, safety-inspected, authentic Gulf seafood that can be tracked directly to its source.

Shareholders’ Alliance president and Gulf fisherman David Krebs announced Gulf Wild™ earlier this week at the opening of the 2011 International Boston Seafood Show. Krebs said one of the current challenges that Shareholders’ Alliance fishermen face today is “educating conscientious consumers and chefs about the conservation measures we are undertaking, and showing them how these measures are helping species like Gulf grouper and Gulf red snapper.” 

Red snapper and grouper on ice, each with the small blue and white Gulf Wild tag attached to the gill.

Gulf Wild™ fish labeled with a sequentially numbered gill tag, which is trackable on mygulfwild.com.

Gulf Wild™ requires participating fishermen to verify that the fish were caught in a sustainable manner under a unique set of “Conservation Covenants”, which guarantee conscientious harvesting. Additionally, Gulf Wild™ fishermen have already been operating under a red snapper IFQ program since 2007 to better manage the fishery.

With that IFQ in place, Krebs said, “Gulf red snapper is moving from a ‘red-listed’ fishery to a more sustainable one.”  Since the inception of the red snapper IFQ, overfishing has ended, wasteful discards have dropped by 80%, and fishermen have seen a 40 percent increase in the total allowable catch.

Key to the Gulf Wild™ program is a tracking system that allows the buyer to “find my fish.” Each Gulf Wild™ fish is marked with a sequentially numbered gill tag just minutes after it is brought on board, whose unique credentials are uploaded to the web when the catch reaches shore. That information is made public via myGulfWild.com, where you can enter the unique tag number and confirm the fish species, catch location, landing port, and even information about the vessel and its captain.

Finally, in direct response to consumer concerns stemming from the BP oil disaster, Gulf Wild™ incorporates a stringent safety-testing protocol that goes above and beyond federal requirements. An independent international testing laboratory will routinely sample Gulf Wild™ fish to test for oil-based contaminants such as PAHs, dispersants, and heavy metals.

To start, Gulf Wild™ tags are now on Gulf red snapper and grouper, with more than a dozen species from the IFQ catch share program to follow. We will continue to expand and improve upon Gulf Wild™ in the months to come, in partnership with an advisory panel of respected experts from the culinary, food safety, public health, conservation, and seafood marketing communities.

I am excited about the Gulf Wild™ project for a number of reasons. First, it highlights the efforts of a rebounding fishery that has transitioned to more sensible management and made notable environmental and economic gains as a result. Second, it shows that there are success stories to be told in the wake of last summer’s BP oil disaster. Last, but not least, Gulf Wild™ can serve as a model for other fisheries around the country as a way of building consumer confidence while creating new market value at the same time.

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Tim Fitzgerald, EDF Oceans' Senior Policy Specialist Testifies at Today's Oil Spill Commission Hearing

Tim Fitzgerald, EDF Senior Oceans Policy Specialist

Tim Fitzgerald, EDF Senior Oceans Policy Specialist

Today, Tim Fitzgerald, EDF's Senior Policy Specialist for Oceans, testified at the third meeting of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Speaking particularly on concerns of seafood safety, Tim mentioned EDF's work with the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance to help them preserve their markets in the face of this disaster. Read Tim's full remarks:

September 28, 2010
National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, 3rd Meeting – Testimony of Tim Fitzgerald, Senior Policy Specialist, Oceans Program, Environmental Defense Fund

Good afternoon. First, I’d like to thank the Commission for the opportunity to testify today on this critically important topic. I’m a Senior Policy Specialist in the Oceans Program of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), with a scientific background in marine ecology and physiology. For the last seven years I’ve worked specifically on issues of seafood sustainability and health for EDF, and I was asked to testify today about the public perception of Gulf seafood safety and the work that we’ve begun with fishermen to address ongoing consumer concerns. For background, EDF is a leading national nonprofit organization representing more than 700,000 members that links science, economics and law to create innovative, equitable and cost-effective solutions to society's most urgent environmental problems.

As you may already know, the seafood market is inherently confusing for consumers. Most people have very little connection to, or understanding of, the fish they buy. More than 80% of fish that Americans eat is imported, coming from nearly every country on Earth and caught or farmed under dozens of different regulatory schemes and environmental conditions. Given this complexity, there are numerous opinions – often conflicting – over what seafood is “good” or “bad”. Regardless, opinion polls, focus groups, and other studies have consistently shown that quality and safety are two top concerns for consumers. Read More »

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