“This action sets in motion an amendment process that could be huge in the battle to save these structures, many of which are covered in tons of living coral and form the basis of thriving ecosystems,” said Pat Murray, CCA president. “We greatly appreciate Dr. Shipp for bringing this important issue to the Gulf Council to emphasize how important these structures are to the marine environment, and to anglers and divers.”
If artificial reefs are eventually designated as EFH, all federal agencies would then have to consult with NOAA Fisheries on federal actions that may adversely affect them. The number of required consultations could be considerable given the current rate of platform removals and installations and, despite these consultations, NOAA Fisheries could only make non-binding recommendations as to how to conserve the affected habitat.
“This is a significant part of the effort to elevate the importance of artificial reefs and save them from an ill-conceived federal order, but we have to continue to work this issue in Congress and with the Administration,” said Murray. “With the offshore season upon us, the realization of the impact of rig removal is only going to become more acute as anglers go offshore and discover that rigs they have fished for years are gone.”
In a misdirected response to the Gulf oil spill, the U.S. Department of Interior issued a directive in October of 2010 ordering that all non-producing rigs be plugged and any remaining structure removed. There are approximately 3,500 offshore structures in the Gulf of Mexico and the directive, known as the Idle Iron Policy, would immediately impact roughly 650 structures that have not produced oil or gas within five years of the directive issue date of Oct. 15, 2010.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La) and Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-Ms) have filed legislation that would prevent rigs and other structures from being summarily removed from the Gulf of Mexico, but both bills face a difficult road through the current Congress. NOAA Fisheries declaring artificial structures and rigs as Essential Fish Habitat is a significant addition to those legislative efforts.
Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana