- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Plastic pipes that energy companies would otherwise send to landfills are being turned into “fish attractors ” by wildlife biologists in at least three southern states.

Kentucky biologists have made hundreds of these artificial reefs from pipe donated by Atmos Energy, setting them out in lakes, rivers and creeks in the state’s northeastern and eastern districts, said Jeremy Shiflet, of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources in Calhoun. He said colleagues in Louisiana and Tennessee are starting similar programs with the pipe, which ranges from a half-inch to 12 inches across.

“We’ve made all kinds of crazy contraptions out of this stuff,” Shiflet said. “The beauty is you get so much material for free and it’s left to your imagination what you can come up with. The fish seem to like everything equally at this point.”

Biologists say small fish shelter in and around the structures and nosh on the algae and aquatic insects that glom onto the plastic. That brings in the big fish that anglers go for.

Sean Kinney and Daniel Hill of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have made things that look a bit like openwork igloos, with narrow pipe threaded through supports made from wider pipes.

Their 5- and 7-foot-tall artificial reefs are prototypes for models that will be placed in lakes this summer, Kinney said: “It’s got to be warm enough that we can dive … to make sure they set up right.”

Louisiana is getting pipe both from Atmos and from Entergy Louisiana, Kinney said.

Entergy has donated 3,000 to 4,000 feet of pipe over several months, said spokesman Michael Burns.

“This is a fantastic program,” he said. “We’re not only helping the environment by keeping scrap pipe out of the landfill, we’re playing a role in building fish populations in lakes across the state.”

Shiflet figures he’s made 350 to 450 of these fish attractors himself, and doesn’t know how many his Eastern District colleagues have made. Shapes include “spider blocks” with a weight in the center and pipes arcing out like spider legs, and constructions that look a bit like groups of cattails, small bushes or even palm trees. His east Kentucky colleagues are making taller structures that Shiflet calls Dr. Seuss trees.

Christmas trees, other dead trees, triangles of wood pallets, oyster shells, and shaped and scrap concrete are also among materials that can be used for such projects. Shiflet said anglers like the plastic pipe because it’s less likely to snag hooks than trees or wood.

And, unlike wood, plastic doesn’t rot.

Shiflet said he got the idea after asking a friend who works for Atmos whether the company had brightly colored scrap pipe he could put over a barrier chain to make it easier to see.

When he got the pipe in late 2014 or early 2015, he saw piles of scrap pipe. Told it was destined for a landfill, he asked if the department could get it. The request went up the ladder. Eventually, a regional vice president told all the offices in his area to save scrap pipe for the department, and Shiflet began regular rounds to pick it up.

Some was too small for Atmos to use, he said. He also got pipe that had degraded from years in the sun.

Since the partnership was going so well, Shiflet said, he asked whether Atmos divisions in other states might be interested in similar deals. He passed on the contacts he was given to colleagues in Louisiana, Tennessee and some other states.

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