Fish for the future
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (WBRC) – At the recent Alabama Wildlife Federation Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards, Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), received a proclamation from Governor Kay Ivey, designating an area off Dauphin Island such as the Christopher M. Blankenship artificial reef area.
“I am very touched and honored that my name is forever attached to one of the areas of artificial reefs off the coast of Alabama,” said Commissioner Blankenship. “It was a very nice surprise for Governor Ivey to deliver this proclamation, with the assistance of Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos and Director of Marine Resources Division Scott Bannon. It was also a blessing that this proclamation was presented with my wife, children, parents, most of our senior ADCNR officials and several hundred other conservationists present at the dinner. It really makes him memorable.
Blankenship grew up on the Gulf Coast of Alabama and has always been linked to the Gulf of Mexico.
“I went to work on a charter boat when I was 14, fishing the waters off Dauphin Island,” he said. “I have fished there with my father, my wife, my children and many friends during my life. I patrolled these waters as a Conservation Enforcement Officer and had the opportunity to be involved in clearing new areas and sinking thousands of reefs. Knowing my name will be perpetually associated with a place that is so special to me personally, it’s great.
Despite the largest artificial reef program in the country, if not the world, ADCNR continues to strive for improvements.
“Although we have already had a very good artificial reef program for several decades, we have not rested on our laurels,” Blankenship said. “A few years ago, we authorized nine new reef areas within 9 miles of shore, in state waters, and we worked on building new reefs in those areas. In 2021, we received a permit from the Corps of Engineers to expand these coastal areas as well as increase the offshore areas by an additional 63 square miles. We have secured over $ 30 million in funding from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other sources to add several thousand offshore, near shore and coastal reefs to provide recreational opportunities to people with large and small boats.
Artificial Reefs Coordinator Craig Newton said contracts are being made to deploy 456 super pyramidal reefs. A total of 164 of these modules will be deployed in the Blankenship Reef Area, while the rest of the contracted Super Pyramids will be placed in several other reef areas off Alabama.
“These reefs are extremely productive and help support the state’s economy.”
The most recent deployment in coastal areas is the result of a partnership project between MRD and Alabama Power. A large boiler has been decommissioned at Alabama Power’s Washington County cogeneration facility near McIntosh.
“Decommissioning and dismantling using traditional methods was going to be quite expensive,” Newton said. “Alabama Power teamed up with Cooper Towing and put the boiler on a barge and towed it to the Alabama Wildlife Federation reef area in about 62 feet of water. This was another unique and hugely beneficial project where state resource managers and industry came together for conservation benefits and cost savings for Alabama Power customers.
As part of an $ 8.135 million expansion of Alabama’s artificial reef program, 1,203 juvenile reef fish shelters are being deployed in the newly expanded 6 to 9 mile reef area.
“These shelters for juvenile reef fish will provide unique habitat in a transition zone between coastal habitat and offshore habitat that will allow reef fish to use them as they move offshore,” Newton said. . “Ultimately that’s going to provide habitat in an area that has historically produced relatively large red snappers. Considering the location and the nutrient-rich effluent from Mobile Bay between Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan, the new area has a significant amount of potential production. With this area of reefs and the juvenile reefs in the 6-9 mile zones, we expect it to be extremely productive for decades, if not centuries. “
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