By Wes Wolfe
At one time, NOAA Fisheries committed people and time to oversight of beach renourishment projects and the effects — often detrimental — of those projects to neighboring essential fish habitat. It was a part of a consultation process on large civil projects.
That’s not the case anymore.
“The big message here is that we have changed our program quite dramatically in the last ten years,” said Pace Wilber, branch chief of the Atlantic and Caribbean Branch of the Habitat Conservation Division of NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Regional Office. “Ten years ago, we focused a lot on reviewing public notices from the Army Corps of Engineers, and now that’s a relatively rare event on our part.”
Wilber gave his update to a recent meeting of the Habitat Protection and Ecosystem-Based Management Advisory Panel of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), the agency tasked with the responsibility of managing federal saltwater fisheries from the North Carolina Outer Banks to the Florida Keys.
Between projects related to large infrastructure legislation recently passed by Congress and disaster-related recovery projects, along with new developments, there aren’t enough people to do the work.
“Beach used to be one of our highest priority activities. It was a way to deal with hundreds of acres at a time, but we just don’t have the human resources anymore to pull that off.
This comes at a time when the same SAFMC advisory panel is working through a policy statement against beach renourishment. “In general, frequent and widespread beach renourishment projects — dredge-and-fill — occurring in the United States southeast together constitute a real and significant threat to (essential fish habitat) under the jurisdiction of the SAFMC,” according to a draft of the policy.