Assessing the Impacts of Oil Platform Removals on Fish Populations in the Gulf of Mexico
A collaborative project between LGL Ecological Research Associates (PI: Benny Gallaway), the University of Texas at Austin (PI: Brad Erisman), and Auburn University (PI: Steve Szedlmayer)
Petroleum and natural gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico house a rich diversity and high abundance of large pelagic and reef fishes (such as red snapper, amberjack, triggerfish, and grouper) which are highly important to commercial and recreational fisheries. Due to federal regulations, platforms are often required to be decommissioned and removed once production ceases, and the removal often involves the use of explosives to physically remove the platform. The impacts of these explosions to fish populations and the fisheries they support are uncertain, but this information is crucial for maintaining the health of ecosystems and coastal economies in the Gulf region.
In this large collaborative project, a suite of methods to estimate the potential impacts of explosive removals of platforms on commercial and recreational fishes and fisheries in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico. We will combine mark-recapture techniques, fish telemetry, physical sampling, hydroacoustics and ROV/camera surveys to characterize the abundance and distribution of federally managed fish species within the lethal blast radius of 60 platforms over the next three years. The team from the UT Coastal Research Program are leading the hydroacoustic surveys using a state of the art echosounder (Simrad EK80). Using this information in combination with the other survey data, we will estimate the potential mortality of each managed species due to explosive removals and compare our study results with mortality estimates that are currently used in the management plans for these species. By doing so, we will be able to determine the relative impact that explosive removals have on fish populations and fisheries at the regional scale.
Commercial and recreational fisheries are a vital component to the economy of coastal communities throughout the Gulf of Mexico, where activities associated with fishing generate tens of billions of dollars each year. Our results will provide detailed information on the impacts of explosive platform removals to fishes and fisheries that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) can use to guide the decommissioning process. This information will also inform fisheries management by allowing fisheries scientists and managers to account for the impacts of platform removals when assessing stocks.