New Funding Supports Research on Red Snapper Growth around Abandoned Oil Rigs in Gulf of Mexico

July 07, 2014

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi program has been selected to receive new funding to support research on artificial reefs that shows how decommissioned oil rigs can help fish communities grow in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We have found data showing a high abundance of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, living around these structures for years at a time,” said Dr. Greg Stunz, Director of the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation. “Red snapper is the most economically important fish in the Gulf of Mexico, and these structures are key to supporting those populations.”

Researchers at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi have collected data showing that decommissioned oil and gas structures converted to artificial reefs support a high abundance and diverse fish assemblages within the Gulf of Mexico.  

HRI researchers have identified 51 fish species from 20 families at 14 surveyed sites near Port O’Connor, Port Aransas, and Port Mansfield, Texas (Click here to view map).  

“The thriving fish populations are evidence of how converted platforms in these areas are sustaining vital fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Stunz. “We’re also studying characteristics such as size, distance from shore, how many in a particular area that are best suited to maintain these ‘fish homes’ for a variety of species, and the long-term effects of keeping rigs in the Gulf after they stop functioning.”

Led by Stunz, the South Texas Artificial Reef Monitoring Program will receive funds from the National Marine Fisheries Service as part of the fiscal year 2014 Marine Fisheries Initiative Program (MARFIN) for “Investigation of the relative habitat value of oil/gas platforms and natural banks in enhancing stock building of reef fish in the western Gulf of Mexico.”

The MARFIN program addresses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) mission to protect, restore, and manage the use of coastal and ocean resources through an ecosystem approach to management. This two-year project, which begins on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014, will be funded at $242,299.

Stunz, who is working with Dr. Matt Ajemian, Assistant Research Scientist, says that in addition to supporting a variety of fish populations, artificial reefs lure commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, and divers; benefiting many Gulf Coast economies.

“What we do is try to develop the best science,” said Stunz. “If you’re going to create artificial reefs, we want to create them in a way that they are going to have the maximum productivity.  Fisheries replenish themselves, so if we manage them properly, there will always be enough there for future generations.”

The South Texas Artificial Reef Monitoring Program works to enhance the effectiveness of current conservation and management initiatives in Texas, which has one of the largest rigs-to-reef programs, and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. The project is also set to serve as an educational tool, providing research experience for students at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.