On Thursday, June 4th, in Long Beach, Miss., trustees for the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) held a public meeting for commenting on funding proposals for ten projects across the five Gulf States. These are restoration projects funded by penalties generated by the Oil Pollution Act in the wake of the BP disaster. This federal act requires a broad damage assessment in the Gulf, and although this is not finalized, several rounds of “early” restoration funding have been released by the trustees. These ten plans comprise Phase 4 of “early” NRDA funding. Gulf Restoration Network provided preliminary comments Thursday night on two projects particularly affecting Mississippi. The meeting was attended by around 70 people. Final comments are due to the trustees on June 19th.
Construction of living shorelines in sections of the Bay of St. Louis, Biloxi Bay, Graveline Bay, and Grand Bay are proposed in Mississippi’s three coastal counties: Hancock, Harrison and Jackson. Previous living shoreline projects have proposed the placement of rock breakwaters parallel to shorelines to protect the marsh edge from erosion. They also create “hard bottom” or structure that provides attachment places for oysters and other bivalves, and habitat for all types of invertebrate marine life and for fish. Some of these breakwaters will be subtidal, staying below the level of the waves on all but the very lowest tides, and some are designed to be intertidal, partly exposed during ordinary low tides.
These areas of artificial hard structure will be built with rock, crushed concrete, or possibly from modular formed concrete - like reef balls or similar structures made off site and set in the water. After placement, they are designed to mimic the shoreline oyster reefs that at one time lined the marsh edges of many of these coastal bays. Creating new sub tidal and intertidal hard structure on an otherwise featureless mud bottom is meant to encourage oysters, mussels, barnacles, other invertebrates, crabs and fish that will orient to these and live on or within them. GRN commented that the placement of the rock or other hard structures needs to be executed using best available science, the least amount of access channel dredging, and with attention paid to the water quality in the areas where the structures will be placed. Using rock or other structure to build breakwaters, jetties or hard bottom is not something new on the coast, but it remains to be seen whether this living shoreline method is a viable, long-term remedy for eroding marsh edges and loss of historic sub tidal oyster reefs and beds.
GRN also commented in support of a project that seeks to help Gulf long- line fishermen change to fishing gear that is more selective and produces smaller catches of non-targeted species. The gear transition is meant to protect one species in particular, Bluefin tuna, which should be better conserved through the use of shorter lines and shorter fishing times. The goal of the gear transition is to have shorter lines and to check them frequently enough so that non-targeted species (or by-catch) can be released from hooks while they are still alive. The main targeted commercial species in this offshore fishery are Yellowfin tuna and Swordfish, but hooked Bluefin tuna, pelagic sharks and other by-catch species need to be released alive to avoid waste and damage to adult breeding populations. Shorter lines and more frequent line-tending should improve the situation.