Expansion of artificial reef off Sabine Pass to help fish, anglers

SABINE PASS — A barge floating between Texas and Louisiana carries tons of rubble and the key to quality marine habitat at a potential fishing hotspot in the Gulf of Mexico.

Eight hundred eighty tons of concrete blocks and culverts await a ride to an artificial reef, High Island 20, where it will be swept off the deck to remain as a neighborhood for fish on the ocean floor.

And that’s just the first barge load. Approximately 3,750 tons of structure is headed for HI-20. The mass of debris will expand the habitat on the site, joining a sunken 120-foot barge and hundreds of concrete blocks on the bottom.

All of it will be ushered by a tugboat in the coming days to the 160-acre reef just a few miles away, where it will be used to create a habitat labyrinth for a myriad of marine species as part of a massive undertaking by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Coastal Conservation Association Texas and its Building Conservation Trust, along with a multitude of partners.

The artificial reef will create an ecosystem from the foundation and the benefits will float to the top.

“Because the majority of our substrate offshore is a mud bottom, building hard habitat there allows the encrusting and settlement of sea apples and invertebrates, prey items for fish,” said Brooke Shipley, chief scientist for TPWD’s artificial reef program.

“It creates a whole ecosystem. It’ll have smaller species of fish as well as larger fish.”

Pipes of various sizes will create a complicated maze for fish to maneuver. Huge concrete blocks littered with holes, used previously to test drill bits, will provide refuge for tiny fish and allow for a healthy balance of prey and predator species.

The expansion of HI-20 will attract a number of recreationally important species, including speckled trout, redfish and others. The reef might also lure some red snapper, and the site’s location in state waters will increase accessibility for anglers to that fishery. Red snapper season in federal waters is allocated a certain number of days with a two-fish bag and 16-inch minimum size limit. In Texas waters, the fishery is open year-round with a bag limit of four fish and a 15-inch minimum.

“These sites will create areas for recruitment of juvenile and young snapper, allow them to grow to that sub-adult level and eventually allow them to displace deeper into other areas around the coast,” Shipley said.

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