A lot has changed since Ted Beaullieu, Sr. began fishing at Cypremort Point in 1934. While the coast will never return to its past condition, Beaullieu and other anglers are working to preserve habitat and fishing opportunities with a new artificial reef campaign.
At age 92, the Lafayette outdoorsman and conservationist has fished and hunted at Cypremort Point his entire life, ever since his father and uncles bought neighboring camps in the fledging community in 1934. Each weekend they’d round up their families and drive down to the camp, fishing, hunting and gallivanting around the bay and surrounding marshes.
The experience fueled Beaullieu's passion to preserve the area’s resources and share its natural beauty with future generations.
On June 27, the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana recognized his efforts, naming the first reef in its new nearshore reef campaign in Beaullieu's honor. The reef is located about 18 miles south of Marsh Island, in the area where Beaullieu learned what it means to be an outdoorsman.
“There’s truly not a more deserving man in the world of coastal fisheries or marine conservation that I can think of. He’s been a giant in this realm for his entire life,” CCA Louisiana executive director and CEO David Cresson said.
The reef campaign — R.E.E.F. Louisiana — is a partnership between CCA, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and local industry to establish new artificial reef habitats in place of oil and gas platforms that have been removed.
The projects will be installed in 20 to 100-foot depth waters off the coast, CCA Louisiana president John Walther said.
CCA Louisiana is a non-profit association comprised predominantly of anglers focused on coastal conservation and advocacy.
Walther said the group has partnered with Wildlife and Fisheries to develop reef projects for almost 20 years. So far, they’ve collaborated on more than 20 inshore reef projects in shallow water zones from Slidell to Lake Charles, he said.
The R.E.E.F. Louisiana campaign was driven by members who wanted to preserve their favorite fishing spots and the fish populations that inhabit the nearshore waters after oil platforms are removed, Walther said.
CCA tapped Acadiana fishermen and others on the coast to map out the best fishing spots in the area, and they produced a list of nearly 200 nearshore sites that CCA hopes to reef over the next several decades, Cresson said.
“This thing was born of Acadiana. It was created by our local chapters and members that had an idea,” Cresson said.
At the dedication ceremony June 27, Beaullieu commended his fellow anglers who contributed to the project. While the reef is named in his honor, he said, it isn’t a one-man show. Successful conservation efforts and managing the coast requires everyone’s participation, he said.
“If we don’t do it and take care of what the good Lord has offered to us, we should be ashamed. It’s so vitally important that everyone participate in this kind of deal. Not just me, not just my family,” Beaullieu said.
After the commemoration, the attendees rode about 45 minutes to the reef site. There a crew with DLS Energy hustled around a moored construction barge, securing a concrete culvert junction box to a crane before swinging it out over the water and submerging it while the group watched.
It was the first piece of roughly 4,000 tons of recycled concrete pilings, platform rig legs, catch basins and crushed concrete laid to form the reef, Walther said. Each piece was stamped with the sponsors’ logos and “Ted Beaullieu, Sr. Reef.”
Once finished, the site will consist of two reefs covering between five to six acres of water bottom. The total cost of construction was about $300,000, Cresson said. Funding came from CCA, CCA member donations, Chevron and matching dollars from the state’s artificial reef fund.
Building an artificial reef is a delicate process, especially in the 20 to 100-foot water depths of the nearshore zone. Planners assessed the water bottom, currents, the proximity to land and water traffic before selecting the site, Cresson said. CCA also had to meet with stakeholders from the commercial fishing industry, the oil and gas industry and the local community to ensure the site would be non-intrusive.
Cresson said they selected the site because it was a relatively low-effort shrimping area.
Mike McDonough, artificial reef program manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard reviewed construction plans to ensure the project won’t cause navigation hazards.
For the Beaullieu reef, the concrete structures were laid precisely to ensure a 6-foot water clearance is always maintained above the reef.
Once completes, the state will assume ownership and liability for the reef. Under the 1986 Louisiana Fishing Enhancement Act, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is the administrator of the reef program and responsible for its execution and maintenance.
Federal regulations mandate oil and gas infrastructure is removed within a year after the lease expires. Oil and gas structures on the coast have always been popular fishing destinations for anglers, and the program’s goal was to repurpose that infrastructure instead of removing it completely, McDonough said.
“Everybody and their mom and their mom’s cousin have been fishing platforms since they’ve been installed,” he said.
The department has partnered with companies and other groups to complete over 70 offshore reefs with recycled platform materials. They’ve also completed at least 30 inshore reefs, lower relief structures made of crushed concrete or limestone in shallow water zones, according to the state program’s website.
The state’s nearshore reef program has been slower to develop, McDonough said, although aging oil infrastructure in that zone is being removed at some of the fastest rates along the coast.
The 20 to 100-foot depth area is tricky, he said, because the reefs aren’t self-forming like the offshore projects or simple to execute like the inshore reefs. Building reefs in the 20 to 100-foot depth area, he said, requires bigger vessels, larger equipment and more funding.
McDonough, who has managed the program since 2013, said he’s excited to see momentum growing in support of building nearshore reefs.
“We’re finally not only seeing the blind spot but we’re putting something in it,” he said. “This is sort of the culmination of decades of thought and effort.”
And it’s only the beginning, CCA Louisiana president Walther said.
Walther, an early advocate for sponsoring artificial reef projects, said being proactive is the duty of all outdoorsmen.
He noted that besides making an enjoyable pastime for family and friends, fishing is an important contributor to Louisiana tourism and the state economy. It’s part of the culture and needs to be maintained, he said.
“Anglers are a lot like farmers. We have to be good stewards of our resource if we want our resource to continue to the following generation,” Walther said. “The resource is not unlimited. It can be consumed. It can be exhausted. So just as farmers take care of their soil, and their water, we as anglers need to take care of our marine habitats.”