- Associated Press - Monday, June 26, 2017

PORT O’CONNOR, Texas (AP) - Sometimes, a lab is a boat and fish are the test subjects.

The Victoria Advocate reports researchers with the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation at Texas A&M; University-Corpus Christi recently put out long lines while floating above the state’s newest artificial reef.

They’re studying not only how the reef recruits fish but also whether the fish prefer the reef’s pyramids, which are made of limestone and a type of concrete, to be close together or far apart.

“We always joke that every day out here is probably six weeks of crunching numbers on a computer,” researcher Quentin Hall said after no fish took the bait off the long lines. “Zero is a number. It’s not a number a lot of people like, but it’s going to look all the more impressive when that number goes up.”

And history shows that it will.

A few years ago, the Center found not only that another near shore reef recruited fish but that those fish stuck around at least until they were 5 years old.

Brooke Shipley-Lozano, chief scientist for the state’s artificial reef program, said this reef spans 381 acres. Part of it is thanks to the Coastal Conservation Association, the Building Conservation Trust and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, which donated 500 pyramids. Shell Oil Company, meanwhile, donated 200. A state contractor finished the reef in May.

So far, Texas has 86 artificial reefs, 14 of which are in state waters, Shipley-Lozano said.

“Port O’Connor is a very important site for us because that area has lost a lot of the production platforms, so we’re doing our best to compensate for those loses,” she said.

Oil and gas production platforms are known fish habitats.

Recreational anglers in particular like artificial reefs placed in state waters because they may make red snapper more accessible. Red snapper prefer structures on the sea bottom, Hall said.

Initially, recreational anglers had three days this year to catch red snapper in federal waters, while they were allowed to fish Texas’ waters for red snapper year-round.

Texas, four other states and the U.S. Department of Commerce recently agreed to allow the anglers more time.

Now, they’ll be able to fish for red snapper in federal and state waters for 39 weekend days running through Labor Day.

The long lines were supposed to catch bigger fish. Later, the researchers had better luck with the traps they sunk in water that was about 66 feet deep. Those traps were for smaller fish and caught about 60. Most of them appeared to be year-one red snapper or grey triggerfish mixed with a few female blue crabs.

“Today was a little bit of a slow day, but in six months, we may come out here and catch 200 fish easily,” Hall said.

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Information from: The Victoria Advocate, https://www.victoriaadvocate.com

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