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Date of Issue: December 26, 2007

Sandscript

Fish tales from far out in Gulf to in Panhandle streams

Here, fishy fishy fishy.

Fish tales of myriad types have been swimming through the news of late. Here’s a few.

 

‘Mariculture’ bashed for Gulf

It was all-against, all-the-time last week in St. Petersburg, as a proposal to allow fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico met massive opposition before a hearing of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

The federal agency is considering offshore fish farms in the Gulf. The “farms” would consist of a series of huge underwater cages, placed in about 100 feet of water roughly 20 to 50 miles from shore. Each cage is estimated to cost $100,000, plus installation, and could hold up to 10,000 fish.

The marine aquiculture plan - “mariculture” - was pretty much blasted by commercial fishers, environmentalists and citizens, according to a St. Petersburg Times account. About 70 people showed up, and more than 15 spoke to the issue. Almost all speakers opposed the measure.

Concerns ranged from pollution due to massive fish food going into a small space. And all those fish have to get rid of all that food, too, also in a small space. Pollution threats were voiced, although the scant proponents said that offshore currents that far out in the Gulf would eliminate any real problems.

Then there were the hurricane issues.

The fish farming operations would be vulnerable to storm action. Most of the farm fish are raised on shore, then moved out into the open Gulf to grow big before harvest. The problem voiced was that most of the fish were genetically bred, meaning that if a cage broke, a whole slew of the same stock of fish would emerge and breed with native stock.

Fish farms in the open waters are featured throughout the world, including China and Mexico, among other locales.

The matter is expected to come back before the council in January.

 

Endangered fish makes comeback

Here’s a happy holiday story about a rare little fish that has surged back in its population. “Surge” is the operative word here, since it went head-to-head with the U.S. military.

There’s a funny little fish called the Okaloosa darter that apparently is only found in the Florida Panhandle. More specifically, it’s pretty much found only in streams within the massive Eglin Air Force Base waterfront, located between Panama City and Pensacola on the Gulf of Mexico.

The fish is a timid little guy, described by the St. Petersburg times as being about the size of stick of chewing gum. It hides in plants along streams, avoids open water to the point that most of the fish spend their entire lives living on one side of a waterway or the other - never crossing the open water - and is dependent on the vegetation along the waterway to live.

Then came the military, back in the 1930s, with roads and erosion and clearing and loss of habitat. Loss of the darter population followed, with a count of maybe 1,500 of the little guys in the early 1970s.

Environmentalists screamed. The Air Force listened.

The base began a vegetation replanting effort for the darters. It restructured some drainage features to better handle runoff. Erosion control was addressed. The cost was in the millions of dollars, and the fish flourished.

The military went so far as to create an aquarium atmosphere with fighter-pilot canopies to protect a culvert across part of a golf course for the darters.

The result has been a resurgence of the fish, with an estimated population today of about 500,000 and a consideration of a change in status from “endangered” to “threatened” by federal fisheries officials.

Of course, the military didn’t do all this just to be all warm and fuzzy. It seems that with an endangered species on the grounds, training of troops, such as a charge across a stream, meant they had to build a bridge.

If the fish is merely threatened, they can “hoo-ha!” across the water sans bridge.

Nonetheless, it’s a nice story of how, as the Times reporter put it, “A military Goliath figured out how to be a good neighbor to the skinny kid next door.”

 

Huh?

So after the above good news about how the government and the environment can play well and not have to run with scissors comes this little snippet of irrationality from another federal agency.

When Hurricane Katrina smacked New Orleans in August 2005, it took out power to much of the city for a very, very long time. Among the damaged properties was the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas where, without filters, thousands of fish died.

When the juice came back, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials admitted to the fish-kill damage, about $616,000, and tentatively agreed for the funding.

Aquarium officials, wanting to fast-track the process, decided to take the direct route and hired fishers to collect species from Florida waters, to the tune of just under $100,000.

Some savings, huh? Quicker, more efficient, jobs for locals, avoid paperwork, save the taxpayers a bunch of money, huh?

Nope. FEMA officials, citing some obscure law that apparently says that facilities can only be returned to their previous condition, not improved, has said they will not reimburse for the fish loss because the fish were not obtained through “commercial” sources. In other words, pay a whole lot more.

The matter irks more than a few. As a spokesman for the Louisiana governor’s office on homeland security and emergency preparedness told the AP, as reported in the St. Petersburg Times, “It’s relatively typical that when Louisiana, or an applicant, finds a unique way to solve a problem that FEMA comes in and throws a flag and says, ‘no, you can’t do that.’”

Let’s see: the feds OK $600,000 for the dead fish. The aquarium does it for $100,000. Attaboy for initiative and cost-saving? Nah.

Go figure.

 

Sandscript factoid

The idea of growing fish in Gulf waters isn’t new. A crew proffered the process a few years ago off Anna Maria Island, and were soundly rejected by state and federal regulators.

Concerns then were about the same as now: Too much fish food with the potential of too much nutrients, among others issues.

Personally, working a farm that is 50 feet underwater and 20-plus miles from shore seems a little iffy to me, too.

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