If you stand on the beaches lining the Louisiana coastline and look south, itís pretty much a guarantee that youíre going to see at least one oil rig. Probably several. The structures absolutely define our world-class offshore fishing, serving as the dining tables for snapper, amberjack, grouper, cobia and many other fish species.
These rigs also serve as economic drivers, as anglers from all over the country travel to storied fishing villages like Grand Isle and Venice to sample what they can otherwise only read about in magazines ó pumping money into the local economies in the process.
But these beacons of the Louisiana fishing industry are disappearing. Not because they have been blown down by storms. Not because they have rusted apart.
No, they are disappearing because their supporting legs are being severed by explosives so the rigs can be hauled back to shore to be dismantled. And itís happening at an alarming rate.
All in the name of safety. All because a federal agency is worried that out-of-production rigs will pose navigational dangers or spring leaks.
We are all for safety. If the Deepwater Horizon oil spill did nothing else, it stressed the need to ensure wells are properly capped.
However, the Idle Iron mandate is devastating the incredible fish habitat that has resided off the Louisiana coast since the first rig was placed decades ago. That means anglers are now regularly showing up to fish their favorite structures only to find open water.
But the problem isnít just one of loss of targets for anglers. No, those anglers can normally just look on the horizon and see another structure to fish.
What is most worrying is that the removals driven by federal mandate are completely counter to other federal mandates aimed at growing offshore fisheries. The very structures that are being pulled out are bedrocks of vibrant communities of coral providing the basis for the food chain that feeds the explosive growth of the species the National Marine Fisheries Service has identified as being in need of help.
We donít agree with many of the regulations NMFS policy makers are enforcing, and we certainly donít believe that species like red snapper ≠ó which literally teem around these rigs ó are in trouble off the Louisiana coast.
However, we are ecstatic to see those same NMFS officials call for a halt, or at least a slow-down, in the Idle Iron policy to allow for a more reasoned approach to geniune issues surrounding out-of-service rigs.
Unless that policy is reversed or modified, we could be living in the golden age of Louisianaís offshore fishing.
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