The Wild Side.March 18, 2012

Maybe it’s too early to state without reservation that a dire prediction made 25 years ago is coming true.

Remember when redfish became a hot-button issue in the late 1980s? There was that incident when a purse-seine vessel’s nets broke and thousands of redfish littered state waters east of the Mississippi River.

In the days and months of research that followed, fisheries biologists found age-group gaps in our redfish stocks, studies that started us on the redfish length limits and daily creel limits we have today.

The biologists and coastal ecologists made another point, one that didn’t make the same headlines as redfish did. Maybe it was because it was buried among the hundreds of pages of graphs, charts and formulae (and the explanations for all those numbers.)

The gist of this secondary information was that the subsiding marshes, while very productive at the time, would reach a point of deterioration that would turn the marshes into a watery desert, a place that couldn’t support the volume of marine life Louisiana marshes had for centuries.

Today, when standing on the levee near Buras and looking at the marshes on the west side of the Mississippi River, a first-time visitor likely would believe it’s one very large bay, a far cry from the small bays, ponds and marshes that made up landscape for generations.

Here’s the point: Since Hurricane Katrina, then Rita, Gustav and Ike ravaged this area, fishermen have wondered why marshes near Buras and south to places like Yellow Cotton Bay and Spanish Pass have stopped producing bumper catches of speckled trout, redfish and flounder.

From some reports, stopped might not be the right word, because “screeching halt” better describes what’s happened.

So, after nearly three years of rapidly declining productivity from these waters, maybe it’s time to considered the possibility that dire prediction has become reality. Maybe Hospital Bay southward to Yellow Cotton is the first stretch in what could become a long list of unproductive marshes.

That’s why when the U.S. Senate passed its version of the Restore Act — a rider on the Transportation Bill — Wednesday, it came with the hope that Restore will send enough of the billions of Clean Water Act fines levied against BP from 2010’s disastrous oil spill to stem the tide of our deteriorating marshes — and restore our barrier islands.

When you stand on that levee at Buras and look southwestward to Grand Isle, you’re looking not at Adams, Bastian, English, Pomme d’Or, Jacques, Cyprian nor Skipjack bays. You’re looking at the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s why it’s important to contact your delegate to the U.S. House to make sure he or she votes for Restore, and urge relatives and friends living in other states to urge their delegates to vote for it, too.

Let’s hope and pray it’s not too late, and let’s hope that advancing this prophecy into reality is quieted by limits from Yellow Cotton Bay.