Guy Harvey Magazine

WIN 2017

Guy Harvey Magazine is focused on fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine conservation. Portfolios from the world's best fishing photographers, articles on gear, travel, tournaments, apparel, lifestyle, seafood recipes, sustainable fisheries.

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Page 30 of 83 | 31 Partly, that success hinged on location. Scientists refer to the portion of the northern Gulf between the mouth of Mobile Bay and the mouth of the Mississippi River as the "Fertile Fisheries Crescent." Thanks to the nutrient-laden flow from the Mississippi and the Mobile River system, this area is ultimately considered the richest, most biologically productive section of the Gulf of Mexico, which is itself considered one of the most productive marine environments on the planet. But naturally, the bottom in this portion of the Gulf resembles a shallow and sandy bowl, with little in the way of relief. Any fisherman can attest that you won't catch much fishing over a barren, sandy bottom. But plop a little bit of structure down and suddenly, a sort of watery oasis appears, attracting all manner of life, from crabs, corals, anemones and shrimp to the dozens of predator species that eat those creatures. Mississippi's reef building program capitalizes on this natural phenomenon, especially since the creation of the state's Artificial Reef Plan in 1999. Today, there are more than 16,000 acres of reefs along the entire Mississippi Coast, beginning with 70 nearshore reefs spread along the Mississippi Sound shoreline. "These are low profile reefs. They are designed for wade fishermen and small boats and piers. They consist of limestone and crushed concrete," said Jimmy Sanders, director of Mississippi's Artificial Reef Bureau. "Offshore, we have 15 permitted reef sites. They range from 8 acres to 10,000 acres. Out there, we have concrete rubble, steel-hulled vessels, and then what we call 'materials of design,' like pyramids and reef balls." The steel-hulled wrecks include the Liberty ships, but also decommissioned pogie (or menhaden) harvesting boats, barges and shrimp boats. "Within nine miles, where the fishermen can harvest snapper during the Mississippi season, we have eight zones," Sanders said. "We also have some 'Rigs to Reefs' sites." Rigs to Reefs is a federal program that allows gas and oil companies to scuttle a platform, remove the top 60 feet or so, and leave the superstructure in place attached to the bottom. Sanders said all of those sites are far offshore, in water that is at least 150 ft. deep. The state is also stockpiling material for new deployments this year. "We are working with the city of Biloxi right now. They are doing a lot of construction and they are donating a lot of material to us—concrete, culverts, things like that," Sanders said. "More than likely, that will all go on Fish Haven 13. That's our big site, 10,000 acres. That's not within the 9 miles," where fishermen taking advantage of the extended state snapper season could fish in 2016. Going forward, Sanders said the plan is to work with federal officials to open more permitted areas where reef materials can be dumped, as Alabama has done. "Nothing compares to Alabama right now in terms of artificial reefs," Sanders said. "We are going to emulate that and work to get more areas permitted, in both state and federal waters, and then we are going to work to continually enhance those areas. I can't see any down side at all to expanding our reef zone. No down side at all." This wreck, stripped clean and prepared for reefing, is about to become the newest addition to Mississippi's artificial reef program. Officials are pushing to build more such reefs in the next several years. Photo: Courtesy of MS DMR. | 31

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