With an incredible biological diversity, the Gulf of Mexico has been described as the “rainforest of the ocean.” The Gulf, however, lacks the natural reefs and coral found in other oceans. Coral, the natural habitat a wide biomass of species depends upon for survival, is being threatened globally by environmental and human issues.
With this lack of natural reefs, the Gulf Seafood Foundation is committed to work closely with members of the Gulf petroleum industry in its Rigs-to-Reefs efforts to turn decommissioned offshore oil and petroleum rigs into artificial reefs. Existing offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico already provide a marine environment similar to artificial reefs. Gulf platforms enhance fish habitat benefiting recreational and commercial fishermen, scuba divers and Gulf communities.
The Foundation is facilitating the discussion exploring the possibility of using existing rig sites as new homes for aquaculture programs. The organization feels it is important to thoroughly examine both the plus and minuses of recycling retired rigs for this purpose. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has already announced a pilot program to raise marine species in well-defined federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Interest in Gulf aquaculture has increased substantially since the announcement.
The Gulf Seafood Foundation is working closely with NOAA, universities, environmental agencies, commercial fishermen and major companies to facilitate a discussion that will lead to programs that benefit both the recreational and commercial fisheries, as well as new aquaculture ventures.
Advanced fisheries research and education is needed in both sectors in order to ensure continued growth in the area’s workforce development throughout the region.
Currently the U.S. imports more than 85 percent of its seafood from countries having limited fishery oversight; placing at risk the safety of seafood consumed by the majority of the U.S. population. With the future growth of the world’s population, Gulf aquaculture has the potential to offer both great rewards and benefits in feeding the world with safe and sustainable fish.