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MRD, CCA Team Up to Complete Bayou Cour Reef

November 17, 2011
 
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

While many members of the outdoors community are thinking about the opening day of gun deer season, there are some who never lose focus on the fishing opportunities that abound in Alabama.

Thanks to a donation by the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) of Alabama, those fishing opportunities in Mobile Bay are being expanded.

The Alabama Marine Resources Division will use a substantial donation from CCA Alabama to complete the largest inshore reef in the state. The Bayou Cour Reef will be 34 acres when completed in the spring in Bon Secour Bay.

Chris Blankenship, Marine Resources Director, said the division started the Bayou Cour project this past summer with Marine Resources money and matching Sportfish Restoration funds.

“The CCA had some funds available for habitat construction,” Blankenship said. “So, we identified the Bayou Cour Reef as a project they would like to complete. They provided us with $81,500, and we’ll match that with Sportfish Restoration funds to complete that project this year.”

The Bayou Cour project had been on the planning board several years ago, but the Deepwater Horizon oil spill hit just as the bids were opened.

“Not knowing the path of the oil, we put that off until this past summer,” Blankenship said. “We put rip-rap around one side and added some cultch material. This [CCA] money will allow us to finish the perimeter with rip-rap and finish the inside of the reef with shells, limestone or crushed concrete [cultch]. The reef is already marked. There are pilings around the perimeter. We hope to have it completed by March. You can fish it now, but when we finish adding the new material, it should be that much better.”

Blankenship said the Bayou Cour Reef site is a relic oyster reef that is a little shallower than surrounding waters in the bay. The reef’s water depth ranges from 5 to 8 feet deep. There should be a minimum of 5 feet of clearance over the whole reef.

“We picked that spot because we just wanted to enhance what used to be there before there were changes in the dynamic of the bay,” he said. “It’s primarily a fishing reef. It may produce some oysters, but that is an ancillary effect. We hope that it will. We don’t know if environmental factors will keep them from producing. We’re hoping we get some added oyster production. Any oysters that grow will help with the water quality and habitat.”

Bayou Cour anglers can expect to find the same type species – speckled trout, white trout, redfish, flounder – as Shellbank Reef, which is to the south of the new reef, and Fish River Reef, which is north of it.

“It should be another good spot for people to fish,” Blankenship said. “Bayou Cour will have plenty of room for people to spread out.”

The Bayou Cour Reef will be similar in size to the Denton Reef on the west side of Mobile Bay just south of Fowl River.

Aaron White of Fairhope, vice president of CCA Alabama, said CCA, as a whole, wants to change the public perception of the organization.

“Traditionally, CCA has taken a very active stance in legislative- and regulation-oriented tasks in the state,” White said. “We were concerned as an organization that that was hindering our reputation a little bit. We wanted to start to make a difference – putting some money in the dirt. We did an analysis on the reefs that were already permitted and possibly under construction. We identified some reefs we wanted to be involved in.”

White said the CCA national headquarters in Houston and Shell Oil formed a partnership to provide a $3 million trust fund for habitat restoration.

“We found out we could get $55,000 from that fund the first year and if we utilized that money, we could get the same amount of funds for the next two years,” he said. “We realized we had a great opportunity to make a difference. We identified the Bayou Cour Reef because it was already started.

“We thought this was a great time to get involved with the state, and a great time to go to bat for recreational anglers, according to our mission. It will also further research on inshore habitat.”

CCA Alabama got its money from three sources: the Shell-funded habitat fund; donations from private individuals with interests in ensuring recreational anglers benefit from the project; and the CCA license tag program.

“We’re the only state with a license tag program and of that $50 fee, $42 is going to the CCA to be used toward these projects,” White said. “We used $25,000 from our license tag program to add to the other money to write the $81,500 check to Marine Resources. The whole idea is that we want to be able to help the state build the reef and accomplish their goals. Basically, our intervention will allow the reef to be completed two years ahead of schedule. And this will allow us to build more reefs. We have made it a strategy, as an organization, to be a part of any reef project over the next three years.

“We want to represent the recreation anglers, but we don’t just want to pass laws and regulations. Those will help protect our resources, but we also want to enhance the habitat. Marine Resources has the best ability to decide what projects need to be identified. We want to be ready whenever the opportunity arises to jump on board. We’re hoping there will opportunities for offshore, as well. We just want to be advocates for the recreational angler, whether that is offshore, inshore or freshwater on the coast.”

Blankenship said partnerships with organizations like the CCA allow Marine Resources to do much more with available funds than it could do alone.

“We’ve enjoyed working with CCA,” Blankenship said. “They are very proactive on increasing the habitat. We have access to some federal funds, but we don’t have the state funds to match it. So, being able to partner with different groups to access those federal funds is beneficial to all of us.”

Blankenship said other projects have been completed recently and others are in the planning stage.

“We have completed the Rockpile Reef off Soldier Creek in Perdido Bay,” he said. “It’s an old natural bottom spot. We just enhanced it with rock and put pilings around it to provide a better fishing spot. It’s a smaller spot, about an acre.

“And we’ve got a new artificial reef zone near the shore in state waters. We can put some material there. We have a lot of reefs on the Baldwin County side of Mobile Bay, so we’re looking at places on the western side and Mississippi Sound to build some new inshore reefs. We’re always looking for ways to improve fishing opportunities in Alabama waters.”

PHOTO: The Bayou Cour Reef will be the largest inshore reef on the Alabama Coast at 34 acres. The perimeter of the reef will be lined with rip-rap and the inside will be filled with oyster shells, limestone and crushed concrete.

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