Texas game fish and the oil rigs they depend on for habitat have some friends in high places.
In a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Texas Governor Rick Perry is calling for a review of the federal government’s “Idle Iron” policy that threatens to dismantle what is regarded as the largest artificial reef system in the world.
In the letter, Perry says that the policy, which orders non-producing oil and gas rigs and other structures in offshore waters to be removed within five years of the issuance of the directive, will have profound negative implications for marine fisheries and the local coastal communities and businesses that rely on the fishing opportunities that these structures provide in the Gulf.
“I understand the factors that may have influenced the decision to order the blanket removal of these structures in the aftermath of the tragic oil spill of 2010,” Perry said. “However, a more balanced, reasoned response is required in light of irrefutable evidence that these structures are the basis for thriving ecosystems that harbor and sustain an immense diversity of life above and below the waterline, including seabirds, fish, turtles, marine mammals and corals.”
The Coastal Conservation Association applauded the statement from Perry.
“We are grateful to Gov. Perry for weighing in on this issue on behalf of recreational anglers, divers and everyone who cares for a vibrant marine environment,” said Pat Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “A more reasoned process is exactly what is needed to preserve these structures that form the basis of thriving marine ecosystems off Texas and all over the Gulf of Mexico.”
Perry’s letter is the latest effort to counter the federal government’s removal policy. At its April meeting, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council moved to begin the process of classifying rigs and other vital artificial reefs as Essential Fish Habitat. 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.
Additionally, 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, and the issue continues to generate a high level of interest from other lawmakers.
“Gov. Perry has shown again that he is a true friend to Texas’ recreational anglers,” said Mark Ray, chairman of CCA Texas. “We greatly appreciate his leadership in elevating this important issue and standing up for the best interests of our fisheries and the coastal economies that depend on them.”