Structure is the Key to Successful Offshore Fishing

Structure is the Key to Successful Offshore Fishing
In offshore fishing, most all understand that structure is the key to success. It can be as subtle as a hard spot or live bottom, a rip or surface flotsam. Much of this structure will change over time, some will improve as others diminish or just float away and disperse as the wind and waves take their inevitable tolls. Time, weather, currents and composition of the structure itself all factor into just how well a spot holds fish and its overall lifespan. Most all of us can remember places that we once fished with regular success, only to watch it disappear over time, to the point that it no longer exists.

One thing we are blessed with in the western Gulf of Mexico is vast areas of live bottom. Although theses areas change from time to time, for the most part they stay fairly consistent. Most are salt domes encrusted with soft corals and various other types of marine growth, providing the essential habitat needed for many fish to survive and thrive.

With the rise of the offshore drilling industry we saw a boom off the Texas coast in the number of production platforms. Theses platforms quickly became an extensive de facto reef system. Many of us can remember these rigs being some of the first places that we learned to hone our skills and regularly found success on reef fish as well as pelagic species. I personally remember the old Buccaneer field when it still had many standing rigs. Now there are two TPWildlife buoy's marking the location of a couple of the Buccaneer rigs that were reefed in place and the rest have been removed with no sign they ever existed.

In the days of reduced bag limits and shortened seasons due to some species being deemed overfished, habitat is the one thing we need to hold onto. It just makes sense to me, that if we need to increase the biomass of our offshore fishery, we need habitat to support not only the fish we target but the entire food chain. Every time we lose one of these rigs, we lose not only a nice fishing spot, but the very habitat that the resident fish have come to depend upon. Production rigs make ideal artificial reefs because they are environmentally safe, are constructed of durable and stable materials that already support a thriving reef ecosystem.

Texas Parks and Wildlife currently has mechanisms in place to reef the current rigs that still exist. It is called ''Rigs to Reefs" and is the heart of the Texas Artificial Reef Program. It primarily involves the recycling of obsolete petroleum platforms into permanent artificial reefs rather than allowing them to be taken ashore as scrap.

The artificial reef act of 1989 directed TPWD to promote and enhance the artificial reef potential off the coast of Texas. TPWD under this directive would later develop the Texas Artificial Reef Program and begin working with oil and gas companies to reef the platforms that were no longer in production or those that had just reached the end of their working lifespan.

To date more than 100 platforms have been donated by the oil and gas industry. TPWD also receives 50% of an oil company's savings from converting the rig to a reef instead of taking it to shore for salvage. The moneys received by the program are used to finance research, administration, maintenance, liability, and construction of new artificial reefs. The funds also make the Texas Artificial Reef Program self-sufficient, with no need for taxpayer dollars.

The federal agency that governs this activity is The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, (BOEMRE). This agency is tasked with the responsibility for overseeing the safe and environmentally responsible development of energy and mineral resources on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Recently there has been a push to remove what is coined as "Idle Iron" and this current push to remove all rigs that are no longer production has all but halted the Rigs to Reefs project and we are seeing the rigs removed at an alarming rate. The practice of what is called Reefing in Place by partial removal has become increasingly difficult under new regulations and requirements placed on the program by BOEMRE.

The most recent mass removals of production platforms has been occurring in the Port Aransas , Corpus Christi area and has sparked a grass roots movement in that area in attempt to change the current regulations and save as many of the rigs as possible for reefing in place.

At the forefront of this movement is The Saltwater-fisheries Enhancement Association (SEA). This is a nonprofit organization that is dedicating much of its resources to the preservation of our production platforms by working on changing the current regulations that will ease what some consider unreasonable requirements that currently discourage the success of the Rigs to Reefs program.

The SEA is currently looking for help from the likes of you and I in this worthwhile movement to save what is left of our vast de facto reef system sitting just off our shores.
I regularly fish many of the production platforms that were reefed in place off the upper Texas Coast and I can testify to their success as fish holding hotspots. For more information on SEA and what we can do to help promote this worthwhile reefing project, you can visit

With everything that is facing our offshore fishery and with the population along our coast increasing every year, it is inevitable that the number of people wanting to enjoy our Gulf will increase as well. Structure will always be a major factor in the sustainability of our fishing resources. Getting involved by writing a letter or volunteering a little time to help ensure that we preserve what we currently have is the least that we can do.