New reefs planned for Lake Borgne/Mississippi Sound

Reefballs like this one, along with large chunks of limestone and some shells, will be used in construction of new artificial reefs proposed for four sites in Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound.
Reefballs like this one, along with large chunks of limestone and some shells, will be used in construction of new artificial reefs proposed for four sites in Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound.

Construction could begin later this spring

Lake Pontchartrain area anglers will soon have four new areas to target speckled trout and redfish, after a permit filed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in January was recently approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Construction of four artificial reefs in and around Lake Borgne and the Biloxi Marsh — the Shell Pad Reef, Grand Banks Reef, Cabbage Reef and West Karako Bay Reef — could start as early as this spring, depending on weather and contractor availability, according to Ashley Ferguson, inshore artificial reef biologist with the LDWF.

“I’m excited,” Ferguson said. “I think they’re going to be really great fishing spots, and we also plan to have these reefs off-limits to oyster harvests, so that’s going to have them serve as a sort of brood stock for the surrounding oyster population, an added benefit.”

The project, a partnership between the LDWF and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, allows for each site to be expanded to about 10 acres in size. Ferguson said that, initially, each reef — made up of large limestone chunks, shells and reefballs — will be cover an acre.

A plan to expand

“That leaves a lot of room for us to go in and put more material in the future,” she said. “Adding hard substrate to areas with that soft bottom is going to be very beneficial for those settling organisms and will establish a location for that food chain to set up and enhance fishing opportunities, which is the whole mission of the Artificial Reef Program.”

Sheepshead swim near reefballs that are parst of an existing artificial-reef site in Lake Pontchartrain.
Sheepshead swim near reefballs that are parst of an existing artificial-reef site in Lake Pontchartrain. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Ferguson/LDWF)

The total construction cost for the project is expected to be about $300,000, which will be split between the foundation and the LDWF, she said.

‘We’re paying for half, and they’re paying for half,” Ferguson said. “Our half comes from the Artificial Reef Trust Fund.”

Community development

Several factors, including water temperature, rainfall and larval availability in the system, help determine how soon fish are attracted to a reef, but Ferguson said it can happen quickly.

“Settlement usually happens pretty fast with organisms like mussels, barnacles and things like that,” she said. “Then, that draws the cryptic species of fish and crabs that look for crevices in those rocks; they’ll typically start hiding in there pretty soon after the material is deployed, within a month. Food will start to develop in the spring and throughout the summer, which then draws in predatory fish that anglers are seeking.”

Reef design

Plans call for 50 reefballs to be used at the Lake Borgne site, which is being constructed over an existing shell pad. The other three sites will feature 30 reefballs each, which Ferguson described as perforated concrete domes, almost like a cement whiffle ball.

The Grand Banks, Cabbage and West Karako Bay sites will be composed of three rows of 2- to 3-foot high limestone in depths ranging from 8 to 10 feet, according to the permit.

This map shows the four proposed artificial reef sites. (Map courtesy of LDWF)
This map shows the four proposed artificial reef sites. (Map courtesy of LDWF)

With the addition of these four sites, Ferguson said that brings the total number of inshore artificial reefs statewide to 33, and additional projects are slated for 2019.

“We’ve been planning these for quite a while, so very soon after we have the permit in hand, I expect we’ll start deployment,” she said. “And these four are really accessible, too. That’s one thing we always try to make sure of: that the reefs are in areas where people can get out there and reasonably fish them.”

The U.S. Coast Guard will ultimately determine whether the reefs will be marked with permanent buoys, Ferguson said, or if anglers will have to rely on updated NOAA charts or GPS coordinates to locate the sites.

Patrick Bonin
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Patrick Bonin is the former editor of Louisiana Sportsman magazine and LouisianaSportsman.com.