Page 141 - South Mississippi Living - June, 2022
P. 141

   During the warmer months, many South Mississippi anglers head offshore to catch red snapper, grouper, amberjack and other assorted reef fish. Roving predators like sharks, king mackerel, cobia, and other species also hunt around reefs. Inshore or nearshore reefs hold speckled trout, redfish, flounder, sheepshead and other species.
For thousands of years, the Mississippi River deposited uncountable silt layers on the Gulf
of Mexico floor, turning much of the bottom into a lifeless mudflat. Hard structures on the bottom make homes and hunting grounds for a multitude of fish. Algae grows on objects, which attracts small creatures that eat algae. Larger creatures feed upon smaller ones. The food chain develops.
“Each reef is a fish oasis,” states Sonny Schindler of Shore Thing Fishing Charters in Bay St. Louis. “Reefs changed the way we fish. When the bottom was mostly just sand and mud, we might pluck a few trout off the beaches or spot some diving birds. Now, even on windy, rough days we can load the boat with all kinds of fish by the reefs.”
Over the years, the state established dozens of artificial reefs to create habitat for various marine species. Today, these reefs dot the coast from inside the bays to far offshore. Reefs range from a few limestone blocks to entire sunken ships. Many exist where anglers in small boats, even kayaks, can reach them. In some places, wading anglers can fish the reefs.
“We have a very extensive artificial reef program,” explains Matt Hill with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. “By putting hard structure out, we created a lot of habitat for
the entire food chain. We have several reefs scattered throughout our bay
systems for easy access by smaller vessels.”
Nobody living along the Coast
ever wants to see another hurricane, but some good comes from natural disasters. The state recycles storm debris and wreckage to build fish habitat, bringing life from destruction. For example, Katrina Key near Deer Island consists mostly of rubble created by the 2005 hurricane, including entire bridge spans.
“Most of the material that we deploy is material of opportunity,” Hill advises. “When we have a natural disaster, we try to make something positive out of it. We want to continue refurbishing our existing smaller sites inside the bays.”
The state also established numerous reefs offshore. Most consist of concrete rubble, culverts, old barges, sunken boats, ships, and other materials. Some offshore reefs stretch over more than 10,000 acres of bottom.
In the summer of 2021, the state added a massive new offshore reef. Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula needed to replace an aging concrete and steel drydock and donated it to the state for an offshore reef. It now sits in 75 to 90 feet of water approximately 35 miles off Pascagoula.
Most of the more popular reefs are 30 to 40 miles offshore, but some are roughly 70 miles out,” Hill says. “We also work with the oil and
gas companies when they want to decommission a rig. We have certain permitted zones where companies
can place the jackets and legs of
those rigs without incurring the expense of hauling them ashore and disassembling them. Some rigs-to-reefs sites are more than 90 miles offshore.”
For more information about the artificial reefs and reef locations, see
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