It is now October and elections are fast approaching. Several constitutional amendments will be voted on by the public, in addition to all the candidates. The Artificial Reef Development Fund is amendment number 8 of 14 slated for vote.
This constitutional amendment would protect the Artificial Reef Development Fund in the constitution from being used for other programs. In recent years nearly $46 million has been swept from the Artificial Reef Development Fund to cover budget shortfalls.
The state legislature saw the need for protecting the fund from other uses in 2013, and passed Act 434 that resulted in proposed Amendment 8. A vote “For” would establish the Artificial Reef Development Fund in the constitution, and prohibit the use of money in the fund for purposes other than those described in the Artificial Reef Program. The protection of the fund ensures that the money can only be used for artificial reef program development and fisheries enhancement, which has provided recreational and commercial fishermen with expanded and enhanced fish habitat. A vote “Against” would leave the fund as it currently exists, only statutorily protected.
The Artificial Reef Program and the Fund established to support it were born out of the Louisiana Fishing Enhancement Act, passed in 1986. The goal of this program is to promote and facilitate establishment, maintenance and monitoring of artificial reefs. The program is administered by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and is overseen by the Artificial Reef Development Council.
When an oil rig is decommissioned, the federal government requires that it be disassembled and removed. The Artificial Reef Program gives the oil companies an alternative: to transform the rig into a reef. This costs the oil companies less money than hauling the rig to shore, so half of their savings is deposited to the Artificial Reef Development Fund. This funds the program including permitting, establishing, monitoring and maintenance of artificial reefs.
Many of these rigs to reefs exist 30-70 miles offshore, due to constraints on how far the rigs can be moved, and required water depth. However, funds generated by the program can be used to establish reefs made out of alternative materials closer to shore. These reefs are more accessible, and can be visited by more anglers who cannot get far out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Since the program started 74 artificial reefs sites have been established, using 336 obsolete platforms jackets and 8 drill rig legs. As many as 17 oil and gas structures were deployed in 2013. Thirty-two inshore reefs have been established out of shell, limestone, reef balls, and bridge rubble. All of these reefs mean more habitat for fish.