The Wild Side: Allain’s bill to protect reef funds

If the issue of red snapper and the recreational fisherman has sparked something near anarchy across the five Gulf States, then the continued raid on the Louisiana Artificial Reef Fund is that same issue on the state level.

The background here is that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration put enough pressure on the State Legislature to take $44 million from the fund designed to relieve oil companies of the burden to remove oil and gas platforms from the Gulf of Mexico waters and allow those platforms to become what they’ve become since installation (and production), that being artificial reefs.

If there has to be a singular explanation why the water off the Louisiana coast has become the fishing heaven that it is, oil and gas platforms would be the reason.

That’s not to imply that there aren’t natural reefs and other structures (wrecks and sunken ships) to supply recreational and commercial fishermen with enough fish to keep them busy, it’s just that within months (not years) of their construction, the oil and gas platforms produce lots of fish and lots of different species of reef fish.

The checklist is long: Grouper, snapper, jack, cobia, mackerel and triggerfish. Corals establish colonies and spiny lobsters live among the steel that make up these platforms.

So, a couple of decades ago, when the Federal Government realized there was something better to do with nonproducing platforms than make the oil companies spend millions to remove them, new regulations allowed the states to step in and allow these structures to continue as fish havens.

Just like Louisiana is leading today’s fight against federal regulations over red snapper, our state led the way in keeping these artificial reefs in the places where they do the most good, in deep water. In return, the oil production company would send a check to our Wildlife and Fisheries Department that was half of the what the company saved for donating the rig instead of having it towed, then paying for it to be salvaged.

This money went into the Artificial Reef Development Fund, which many of us believed was constitutionally protected, just like the LDWF’s Conservation Fund.

We were wrong, or at least Gov. Jindal’s minions said we were wrong and got enough legislators to vote to raid the fund during the 2010 and 2011 sessions.

Apparently those millions, and the other millions taken from other programs, isn’t enough to balance the state’s budget, and Jindal and his gang decided another raid is in order this year.

Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, introduced Senate Bill 128, a document designed to constitutionally protect money in the Artificial Reef Fund. The bill is scheduled to be heard Monday in the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

This protection is needed now more than ever, now that the Obama administration is removing more and more nonproducing platforms from the Gulf. We need deep-water structures, and we need the money to continue this program.