Aquaculture and Louisiana Fisheries: Innovative Oil Spill Rehabilitation Efforts

Craig Gothreaux  Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 2000 Quail Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70808. E-mail: [email protected]

Patrick Banks Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Baton Rouge, LA 70808

Screen-Shot-2014-11-21-at-11.41.58-AM-807x1024When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, shockwaves were felt throughout the region and the country. The result was one of the nation’s worst manmade disasters, with an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf and over 1 million gallons of dispersants applied to the waters of the spill area. The scope, nature, and magnitude of the spill caused widespread impacts to Gulf ecosystems, including the highly productive coastal estuaries, shorelines, and marsh habitats in Louisiana. The ripple effects of this event spread across the plants and animals that comprise these diverse environments to the Gulf Coast communities that rely on and cherish these important resources. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 provides for a scientific and legal process called a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) to determine the size and scope of injuries to natural resources, as well as the services those resources provide, resulting from oil spills. Pursuant to the Oil Pollution Act, natural resource trustees assess the injuries and then develop and implement a plan to compensate the public for those injuries. The Deepwater Screen-Shot-2014-11-21-at-11.42.10-AM-1024x492Horizon NRDA trustees include representatives from the five Gulf states, along with a number of federal agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of the Interior. The assessment process alone can take many years even in a relatively small spill, and restoration typically does not begin until the assessment is complete. However, BP, a responsible party in the Deepwater Horizon spill, agreed to provide the trustees with up to $1 billion for restoration of injured resources prior to completion of the assessment (Early Restoration) due to the magnitude of the spill and the need to begin restoration more quickly than in a traditional NRDA. Once the trustees’ assessment is complete, a final damage assessment and restoration plan will be developed to address injuries not fully addressed by the Early Restoration. Screen-Shot-2014-11-21-at-11.42.17-AM-861x1024To date, Early Restoration for the Deepwater Horizon NRDA includes two projects that involve culture activities in Louisiana: the Louisiana Oyster Cultch Project and the Louisiana Marine Fisheries Enhancement, Research and Science Center (Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Trustees 2012, 2014). For both of these projects, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is the lead agency for planning, implementation, construction, operation, and monitoring. LDWF is responsible for managing Louisiana’s aquatic resources and the habitats that support them, for the benefit of Louisiana’s residents and visitors [su_members message=”This content is for members only. Please login.”

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Louisiana’s oysters were exposed to oil, dispersants, as well as response activities undertaken to prevent, minimize, or remediate oiling from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Since the spill, there have been severe declines in oyster abundance on the public seed grounds in both seed and sack size oysters compared to historical averages. Given the importance of the resource to the state, LDWF took a proactive approach to oyster rehabilitation and prioritized the Louisiana Oyster Cultch Project, which included placement of oyster cultch onto public oyster seed grounds and construction of an oyster hatchery facility. Cultch plantings provide hard substrate on which freeswimming oyster larvae can attach and grow (Figure 1). The cultch planting approach utilized in this project has been employed by LDWF since 1917 and is a proven oyster management technique. Between the spring of 2012 and summer of 2013, over 170,000 cubic yards of cultch material was placed at six locations, both east and west of the Mississippi River (Figure 2). LDWF biologists continue to monitor these and other oyster reefs throughout coastal Louisiana as part of the LDWF Oyster Management Program. The oyster hatchery portion of the project involves constructing a state-of-the-art facility to provide a supplemental source of oyster larvae and seed to help facilitate and expedite the success of cultch plants. This project builds on work pioneered by Louisiana Sea Grant, which has operated an oyster hatchery research facility for over 20 years. After being destroyed by Hurricane Gustav, hatchery functions moved to the LDWF Grand Isle Laboratory (Figure 3) in 2009. The new hatchery facility will greatly expand existing hatchery and remote setting capabilities that have already resulted in the deployment of over 1.25 billion larvae and approximately 52 million spat into coastal Louisiana waters since 2011. Oyster hatchery operations will include broodstock maintenance, algal cultivation, larval production, and a nursery system with grow-out capacity. Larvae produced at the hatchery can be released into the water directly over cultch material or be remotely set on oyster cultch to create oyster seed. Remotely set oysters can then be deployed directly onto reefs or further developed in the nursery system prior to deployment in a suitable grow-out area (i.e., public seed grounds). Permitting and design have been completed, and construction is currently underway. LOUISIANA MARINE FISHERIES ENHANCEMENT, RESEARCH, AND SCIENCE CENTER Recreational fishing in Louisiana was adversely impacted by the spill, as widespread closures of areas for recreational fishing were necessary due to the presence of oil, cleanup efforts, and response activities. In addition to the closures, the lost opportunities caused recreational users to alter or cancel preferred activities, resulting in large reductions in coastal recreation in Louisiana. The objective of this restoration project is to help compensate for the loss of recreational fishing services resulting from the spill by constructing facilities to enhance recreational fishing experiences through aquaculture and promote environmental and cultural stewardship, education, and outreach. This project will develop facilities at two sites with the shared goals of fostering collaborative, multidimensional research on marine sport fish (Red Drum Sciaenops ocellatus, Spotted Seatrout Cynoscion nebulosus, and Southern Flounder Paralichthys lethostigma) and bait fish species (Atlantic Croaker Micropogonias undulatus and Gulf Killifish Fundulus grandis). The facilities will also serve to enhance stakeholder involvement by providing fisheries extension, outreach, and education to the public. The primary facility will be located in Calcasieu Parish near the north end of Calcasieu Lake and south of the city of Lake Charles (Figure 4). The satellite facility will be located in Plaquemines Parish on the west bank of the Mississippi River, south of New Orleans (Figure 5). The Calcasieu Parish facility plans include construction of a multipurpose building and pond complex to be used for marine fisheries research, production, education, and outreach. As currently planned, the building would contain a hatchery, visitor center, dormitory, administrative and staff offices, meeting rooms, crew support areas, two laboratories, covered access corridor, maintenance shop, and equipment storage rooms. The hatchery elements include indoor systems for broodfish maintenance, feed preparation and live food production, egg incubation and larviculture, and juvenile rearing. The production pond complex will consist of three half-acre rearing ponds, a saltwater reservoir pond, and two effluent treatment ponds. The public visitation and outreach portions of the facility will provide dedicated space for public education on fisheries management activities and restoration programs and will include a reception area, educational exhibits, display aquaria, a marine animal touch tank, visitor restrooms, and a youth fishing pond. The educational components of the project will also allow for opportunities to highlight the many different cultural and biological aspects of marine fisheries in Louisiana. Plans for the Plaquemines Parish facility will involve constructing a new building and renovating existing onsite facilities. This location will serve as a research and demonstration facility for marine bait fish husbandry in support of recreational sport fishing. As currently proposed, the new building would house staff offices and a baitfish culture area with small-scale recirculating aquaculture systems for research and demonstration of technology for live bait husbandry. Existing onsite facilities facilities that were previously used for plant propagation would be renovated or reconditioned, including a Mississippi River water intake structure and pumping station, ponds, and infrastructure components (e.g., water pipelines, access roads). The rehabilitation of existing ponds would be used for a combination of water storage, effluent treatment, and research projects on integrated multitrophic aquaculture for freshwater and low-salinity production of baitfish and coastal plants.Screen-Shot-2014-11-21-at-11.42.28-AM-1024x776 This project would allow LDWF to responsibly develop aquaculture-based techniques for marine fisheries management. At the same time, the creation of these living laboratories would enable a myriad of collaborative research possibilities while providing dedicated venues for outreach and education to the public. Hatchery fish would be utilized for a variety of research projects, including collaboration with academia and other stakeholders. The production and release of marked hatchery sport fish will be carried out in conjunction with LDWF’s statewide Fishery Monitoring Program and be used for the long-term monitoring of Louisiana’s fishery resources and the habitats that support them. Initial releases will be targeted experimental stockings to investigate ecological hypotheses and evaluate release strategies (e.g., spatial and temporal variation, fish size, marking techniques). This work would provide information on recruitment, survival, health, movements, and genetic structure of marine fish populations, which would be used to help develop and evaluate strategies for the management of Louisiana’s saltwater sport fishery. Screen-Shot-2014-11-21-at-11.42.35-AM-1024x850In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Early Restoration projects represent just the first steps in a long journey to rectifying the damage caused by this disaster. The Louisiana Oyster Cultch Project and the Louisiana Marine Fisheries Enhancement, Research, and Science Center would support and improve Louisiana’s ongoing efforts to conserve its fishery resources. The culture components of these projects would develop applied scientific methods as a novel tool for marine fisheries management in Louisiana. The outreach and educational aspects will deliver knowledge and information to the public on fisheries management topics and the importance of conserving valuable marine species and habitats. Overall, the elements coalesce with the overarching mission of LDWF to manage Louisiana’s aquatic resources by maintaining healthy populations for current and future generations to enjoy. REFERENCES Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Trustees. 2012. Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Phase I Early Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment. Available: (October 2014). ——. 2014. Programmatic and Phase III Early Restoration Plan and Early Restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. Available: (October 2014). Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Title 33, U.S. Code § 2701 et seq.

Gothreaux, Craig and Patrick Banks, 2014. Aquaculture and Louisiana Fisheries: Innovative Oil Spill Rehabilitation Efforts. Fisheries 39(11): 536-540.