CAPE CORAL -- Florida would receive the lion's share of funding in the first round of British Petroleum reparations from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster under recommendations made by a leading U.S. saltwater conservation organization.
Florida's five project recommendations involve roughly $600 million in funding, which is more than twice as much as any other affected state. Louisiana was next at $138 million; followed by Texas, $78 million; Mississippi, $39 million; and Alabama, $37.5 million;
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership listed 25 priority Gulf of Mexico projects Friday on the last day of this year's annual Saltwater Summit, with five apiece for each of the five states damaged by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
State and federal agencies guiding the recovery from the huge oil spill are being asked to commit funding to enhance and restore habitat; improve fisheries science, management, monitoring and data; increase survival rates of reef fish; and expand access to quality fishing opportunities.
"The various efforts to restore the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill represent an unprecedented opportunity -- not only to repair the damage from the spill but also to address long-standing
habitat loss and deficiencies in fisheries science, management and access to the resource," said TRCP Center for Marine Fisheries Director Chris Macaluso.
Florida funding was buttressed by an outsized allocation to establish a Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage Reservoir for an estimated $584.6 million. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the reservoir will ensure a more natural, consistent flow of fresh water to the estuary.
The project, which will consist of a 10,500-acre storage reservoir, a system of canals and recreational opportunities, received congressional authorization in the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act and is already eligible for appropriations.
Other Florida projects include:
Gulf Coast fish-tagging program, $10 million;
Boater sea grass education program, $6 million;
Pensacola East Bay oyster reef project, $4.175 million; and
Reef fish catch-and-release trauma reduction program, $4 million.
Manatee County is expected to be included in the fish-tagging, boater sea grass education and reef fish catch-and-release programs.
Some programs will be established in all five affected states, while others are only scheduled for implementation in specific areas. Proposed programs include:
A Gulfwide education outreach to reduce trauma on fish caught and released in deepwater areas polluted by the Deepwater Horizon disaster;
Increased fish-tagging efforts using acoustic and telemetry tags across the Gulf;
Expansion of oyster reefs and other natural and artificial reef structures in each state;
Restoration of barrier islands and other smaller interior islands in Alabama and Louisiana;
Improvement of fishing infrastructure such as docks, piers and boat launches in Louisiana; and
Improved water quality and hydrology throughout the Gulf.
All targeted projects overlap with broader recommendations made by the TRCP, American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association and others in the report "Gulf of Mexico Recreational Fisheries: Recommendations for Restoration, Recovery and Sustainability."
In 2013, the TRCP worked with recreational fishermen, state and federal management agencies, scientists and conservation groups across the Gulf to conduct a series of workshops to identify the priorities listed in the report.
"CCA Louisiana has invested millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours into building reefs, restoring marshes and improving fishing facilities across Louisiana's coast," said Coastal Conservation Association Louisiana Executive Director David Cresson. "The projects in this list help further those efforts and other vital programs and projects needed to make sure we have good habitat, better water quality and sustainable fishing, in Louisiana and gulfwide, for decades to come."
More than 3.5 million anglers fish the Gulf of Mexico every year, and the economic impact of sportfishing in the Gulf is substantial. Recreational fishing and fishing-dependent businesses generate $10.3 billion in economic activity and $1.3 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues annually and support nearly 100,000 jobs in the region, according to the American Sportfishing Association.
"Restoring vital habitat such as oyster reefs and coastal marshes will help ensure the long-term sustainability of fish and the recreational fishing community throughout the Gulf," said Bob Bendick, Gulf of Mexico program director for The Nature Conservancy. "This is a priority for the entire Gulf Coast community."