The United States Senate is likely to pass what has been called by some the most significant sportsmen legislation in a generation. The Sportsmen’s Act (S. 3525) includes a directive to Departments of Interior and Commerce along with other federal and state agencies to report to Congress on the removing of oil rigs no longer in use but where coral and fish populations have taken over the structure. The version that is set to pass the Senate does not stop the removal process, which is already destroying coral and fish, while Congress examines this issue.
It’s true we need some better information on how rigs become artificial reefs and which are chosen and how many we need for important fish habitat, but we already know that rigs provide important habitat for fish and sensitive coral populations. That fact will not change with more studies. Government agencies have recently offered some basic information on where the rigs are and which ones become reefs so it’s clear the agencies are starting to get organized, but in the meantime, let’s stop destroying these good fishing spots and coral ecosystems. These decommissioned rigs are important to anglers in the Gulf of Mexico and it is possible that their existence is not only beneficial to fish populations, but that their removal may cause real harm.
The federal government needs to stop removing rigs while we develop the process. We will continue to work with the administration, other fishermen and the oil industry to find a way that works.
A large group of chub (Kyphosus sp.) school under the platform. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS (From NOAA)
Despite a lot of bad weather and the end of red snapper season, fishing is heating up in the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing isn’t the only thing that’s hot, though, as the debate over removing non-producing oil rigs in the Gulf is also going at a fever pitch.
I wrote back in late April about the current controversy regarding plans by the Department of Interior (DOI) for the expedited removal of these retired rigs. Lots of recreational fishermen oppose this policy, because the underwater structure creates a reef habitat for fish – nice for the fish – but also a great target for fishermen.
Several actions are underway to ensure that removal is just an option and that artificial reefing is also an option. As I mentioned in that previous post, Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi and Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana have introduced bills in Congress. Since then, there was a proposal to amend the Farm Bill with a provision on rigs and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is continuing the process to designate the retired rigs as “essential fish habitat.” Also, other members of Congress, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, state fisheries managers and sportfishing groups have all written letters to Secretary Ken Salazar seeking at least a delay in implementing outright removals and, ideally, a new policy altogether.
EDF is helping call attention to these proposals and requests. In our meetings and conversations with staff at the White House and Department of Interior it has been clear that confusion is a big stumbling block. We all need better numbers and information about what is going on. What seems to many to be a deadline for removal is, to the government, only a requirement to file a plan for either reefing or removal. Boat captains have tallied removals that they have seen, and the agency has different numbers. Read More
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