Urgency mounts over negative impacts of Idle Iron policy
A coalition of marine conservation, tackle and boating industry groups is calling for a halt to the federal government’s destructive “Idle Iron” policy that threatens to dismantle what is regarded as the largest artificial reef system in the world. In a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the coalition calls for a moratorium to prevent the Idle Iron Policy from inflicting irreparable damage on an extensive range of marine fisheries and ecosystems.
“Our groups respectfully request a two-year moratorium on the Idle Iron guidance until a stakeholder process can be developed to both determine the best methods to properly dismantle platforms that are not serving as marine habitat and to protect those structures that are shown to harbor thriving marine ecosystems,” states the letter signed by Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, American Sportfishing Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Center for Coastal Conservation, The Billfish Foundation, and the International Game Fish Association. “We offer our combined expertise and stand ready to be resources for your Department to develop more thoughtful methods to achieve our shared goal of protecting the marine environment while conserving these valuable artificial reefs.”
In a knee-jerk response to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the U.S. Department of Interior issued the Idle Iron directive in October of 2010 ordering that all non-producing rigs and platforms be plugged and any remaining structure removed within five years of the issuance of that directive. Anglers have grown increasingly frustrated over the increased pace of rig removals and the profound negative implications for marine fisheries and local coastal communities and businesses that rely on the fishing opportunities these structures provide.
“The entire issue of platform removals needs a much more thorough review given the incredible array of priceless marine habitat at stake,” said Pat Murray, president of CCA. “Political leaders and experts from across the spectrum have voiced serious concerns about the impacts of the Idle Iron directive and are demanding a more reasoned process to evaluate these structures.”
The coalition has been working to include the Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act filed by U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La) into a sportsmen’s legislative package being crafted in the Senate. Opposition to the bill from the Department of Interior has made that road more difficult, but efforts are underway to insert language requiring a more thorough review and vetting process before any structures are removed as a result of the Idle Iron Policy. Also encouraging, in April of 2012, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to begin the process of classifying rigs and other vital artificial reefs as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH). If artificial reefs are eventually designated as EFH, all federal agencies would then have to consult with NOAA Fisheries on federal actions that may adversely affect them. In the last two months, both Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) have written letters to Salazar urging him to reconsider the policy.
“The bottom line is that irreparable damage is being done now – once those structures are removed it is too late for the Department of Interior to determine it made a horrible mistake,” said Murray. “The only reasonable thing to do is call a time-out and take a more thoughtful, cautious approach before we lose any more habitat.”