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California study supports view that fish like platforms

Bob Tippee

In the late 1970s, states on the US East Coast successfully thwarted drilling in federal waters off their shores.

To this day, leasing of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf remains closed.

The main antileasing argument in the 1970s was that drilling and production platforms threatened fishing.

So leasing, drilling, and production didn't happen off the East Coast.

And in the 1980s, important fisheries collapsed anyway. The platform-free waters of America's eastern seaboard were fished out.

Here's betting residents of the East and West Coasts still think oil and gas activities are incompatible with fishing.

Gulf Coast fishermen, of course, know better. Gulf of Mexico fish congregate around the platforms off Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

It turns out their Pacific cousins do, too.

According to a study by researchers at the Marine Science Institute of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Pacific fish may even prefer platforms to natural reefs.

In cooperation with the US Geological Survey, the institute's Milton S. Love, Donna M. Schroeder, and Mary M. Nishimoto studied fish populations during 1995-2001 around platforms and outcrops off southern and central California. Most of the platform research occurred in the Santa Barbara Channel and Santa Maria basin.

One part of the study compared fish populations of Platform Hidalgo with North Reef, a natural outcrop 3,300 ft away.

Although more species of fish appeared on North Reef¿94 vs. 85 around Platform Hidalgo¿most species were more abundant at the platform.

"The higher densities of rockfishes and lingcod at platforms compared to natural outcrops, particularly of larger fishes, support the hypothesis that platforms act as de facto marine refuges," the researchers wrote.

They also noted that fish tend to be bigger around platforms. One reason for that is natural outcrops receive heavier fishing pressure than platforms do.

Can anyone dispute that depleted fisheries of the platform-free Atlantic represent an ultimate consequence of that set of relationships? Jeopardized fishing is no sound reason to resist oil and gas work.

Coastal residents worried about platforms and fish populations would find the UC Santa Barbara report enlightening. It's at www.id.ucsb.edu/lovelab.

(Author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)


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