BP may pay for saltwater hatchery to breed, restock fish


HOUMA — Louisiana may get $48 million to help restock saltwater fish impacted by the oil spill, Wildlife and Fisheries officials said.

The proposed hatchery would be capable of producing 15 million or more redfish, sea trout and flounder hatchlings annually to be released into the Gulf of Mexico, according to a Wildlife and Fisheries plan.

“The project will gives us the ability to mitigate any loss to certain fisheries,” said Assistant Secretary of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Randy Pausina. “Redfish, sea trout, flounder, anything.”

The hatchery would help offset damage to spawns, larvae and juvenile fish exposed to oil.

The plan includes three separate hatchery sites, including a $40 million production facility in Calcasieu Parish that would feature 36 outdoor ponds and 30 indoor tanks.

Grow-out ponds, where the fish are raised to fingerling size prior to release, would be built in Plaquemines Parish and cost about $4 million.

A $4 million “show hatchery” would be built at the new marine-science center in Grand Isle. The fish would be raised where visitors can view the process and ask questions. The project would include an education area and boardwalk in the nearby marsh.

Pausina said Wildlife and Fisheries is in negotiations with BP to pay for the hatchery.

The oil spill occurred at the peak of spawning for many Gulf fisheries, and scientists are concerned about the impact on fish populations.

While all testing has shown that current fish populations suffered minimal effects from the oil, long-term effects remain unknown, said John Walther, co-coordinator of the Coastal Conservation Association of America’s habitat initiative. The CCA is the nation’s largest sport-fishing advocacy and lobbying group.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrator Jane Lubchenco’s main oil-spill concern is how the spawn would be impacted, Walther said.

The presence of oil in the Gulf had the potential to disrupt marine-life cycles, damage marshes that act as nursery grounds for fish eggs and larvae and damage reproductive functions in adult fish.

“To assume that we will be OK because our adult fish are seemingly unaffected is foolish and unacceptable,” Walther said. “Our state simply cannot afford to risk the near certain likelihood that we suffered damages to the spawn or to our precious fish habitats. That damage will cause unimaginable damage to our culture and our economy and will create a trickle-down effect that will be difficult to reverse.”

Hatcheries aren’t a new concept, Walther said. Texas and Mississippi both have thriving saltwater-hatchery programs.

The project has been proposed as a Natural Resources Damage Assessment project, restoration that BP is required under law to pay for to offset environmental damage.

The state has requested a down payment of billions to start restoration projects immediately, and the hatchery could be paid for with that money, Pausina said.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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