Design work has begun on Phase 1 of the artificial reef that will ultimately replace the Pickets, with the hope that construction of the 8- to 12-acre site will be completed later this summer, officials said.

The exact timeline for removing the structures that make up the trout-fishing hotspot south of Terrebonne Parish is not known, but David Cresson, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association Louisiana, said the plan right now is to have Phase 1 of the reef system finished before hurricane season really ramps up in August and September. 

“We are truly hopeful that we have Phase 1 of the reef in place during early- to mid-summer,” Cresson said.

Unlike many other artificial reefs across the state, Cresson said the design will hopefully keep the unique nature of the current underwater terrain.

“We believe part of what makes it such a productive place to fish is that there are peaks and valleys, scour holes and little ridges — places  where baitfish can get out of the current or hide from predator fish,” Cresson said. “So rather than make a flat 10-acre shell pad, we are designing the reef to maintain and enhance some of those features that we believe make it a productive fishing spot.

“Where there are scour holes, there will remain scour holes. Where there are risers and ridges, they will remain. We will drop the concrete material in a way to optimize the water bottom and terrain that’s already there.”

Cresson said Fieldwood Energy, which now owns the site located in Ship Shoal 26 out of Dularge and Cocodrie, has worked with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and CCA to come up with a workable solution for the site.

“They have explored every option they had when it comes to ways to make the best of a tough situation, but their only real option when you consider liability and so on was for them to remove it, and for us to enhance the bottom structure,” Cresson said. 

The good news, according to Randy Pausina, head of fisheries with LDWF, is that the existing structures are in relatively shallow water, so the reef design will hopefully maintain what the speckled trout like about the area.

“That is a trout habitat, and you’re not reef fishing for grouper or snapper, so vertical relief is not important,” Pausina said. “Horizontal relief is what’s important in that habitat for people who want to fish for trout.”

A representative of Fieldwood Energy could not be reached to comment on the timeline for when the existing structures would be dismantled and removed.