JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Northeast Florida anglers tell Action News they’re disgusted by recently uncovered video of an oil rig exploding in the Gulf of Mexico, that left an estimated 10,000 pounds of red snapper floating on the surface.
“It's the most cost-effective way [to remove the rigs] but it's also the most environmentally damaging,” says Dr. Quinton White, Executive Director of the Marine Science Institute at Jacksonville University. “It's not something to be unexpected. If you blow something up, you're going to kill fish.”
Action News has learned a federal mandate requires an estimated 5,000 abandoned oil rigs be removed from the Gulf, because lawmakers consider them an eyesore, dangerous for boaters and often used by drug smugglers.
Over the decades, however, the rigs have become artificial reefs, and home to thousands of fish like Red Snapper.
Red Snapper is perhaps the most sought after seafood, and Northeast Florida was once the epicenter of a thriving industry. St. Augustine Charter boat Captain Robert Johnson calls it the most popular fish he used to be able to catch.
“My business is a good indicator of how the industry has changed and I’m down 50 percent.”
In the 1980’s, the government enforced heavy regulations to protect red snapper from overfishing. Johnson says the fish is now more plentiful than ever before, but regulations still haven’t changed.
In the gulf, only a certain number can be caught every year, and in Northeast Florida, anglers are allowed only six days to fish for red snapper.
Johnson told Action News his customers recently caught 26 red snapper on one trip, but all had to be returned to the water.
“It would have been nice if they could have kept just one or two.”
When images the dead snapper came to light, Johnson was furious. He believes the video proves a double standard in government that hurts not only the fishing industry, but the hospitality and tourism as well.
“You're going to tell us we can't go catch a fish because they're overfished and they need to be protected, but then the same government that tells me that is going to go out and just waste who knows how many thousand pounds of red snapper?”
Joe Kistel, Executive Director of Think It, Sink It, Reef It has designed artificial reefs all over the state, and believes there’s a better way to remove the rig’s dangers and protect sea life in the process.
“They're basically putting dynamite on a thriving reef system, hitting a button, and killing a very diverse ecosystem. I don't see why you necessarily have to take the whole structure down, especially by using explosives. Removing the tops of the structures seems to be enough.