June 26, 2013

Brighter Future for Gulf Coast Anglers

In a step to enhance recreational fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Director Jim Watson signed a new Interim Policy Document (IPD) regarding the conversion of decommissioned oil and gas platforms into artificial reefs, also known as “Rigs to Reef” policy. This policy replaces the 2009 policy addendum issued by BSEE’s predecessor agency, the Minerals Management Service and provides more flexibility in creating reef sites, a clear victory for recreational fishing groups.

Today’s newly signed IPD is clearly a step in the right direction, but the success of the new IPD now depends on its real-life application. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has been engaged in this issue from its inception as CSF President Jeff Crane, member of the Sport Fishing & Boating Partnership Council (SFBBC), has worked with other sportsmen’s organizations calling for more flexibility in the “Idle Iron” policy, as described below. In addition, Chris Horton, CSF’s Midwest States Manager, attended the “Rigs to Reef” workshop hosted by BSEE on February 21 in New Orleans, Louisiana which focused on the necessary changes to the “Rigs to Reef” policy.

The Department of the Interior issued the “Idle Iron” guidance for the decommissioning of wells and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf Region on September 15, 2010. The guidance stipulated that wells and platforms meeting the definition of “no longer useful for operations” be removed as soon as possible but no later than 5 years after the effective date of this guidance or within 5 years of the platform meeting the definition of no longer useful for operations, whichever is later. However, many of these rigs provide habitat for numerous fish species, making them some of the best recreational fishing locations in the Gulf.  In response, the sport fishing community reached out to members of Congress, the Secretary of the Interior, BSEE, the oil industry and many others to work on a solution that would offset the environmental impact of removing these decommissioned rigs through the Rigs to Reefs program, which uses the scraps of rigs to create artificial reef sites.

Key changes in policy regarding the Rigs to Reefs program now formalized in the IPD include:

• Removal of the five-mile buffer zone requirement between reefing areas;
• Allowing for reefing in place when appropriate (Special Artificial Reef Sites or SARS);
• Providing for extensions to regulatory decommissioning deadlines for companies pursuing a “Rigs to Reefs” proposal.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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