By DOTTY NIST
Jobs, education, enhancement of tourism and recreation are being highlighted as some of the benefits of establishing a fish hatchery and marine plant nursery in Walton County.
Brett Boston, executive director for the Wildlife Foundation of Florida, addressed the Walton County Board of County Commissioners at a special meeting on Oct. 28 at the Walton County Courthouse, presenting information on the possibility of a local fish hatchery/marine plant nursery facility.
Boston explained that his organization is the nonprofit arm of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and represents the latter organization on hatchery initiatives across the state, working on public/private partnerships to put these facilities in place and provide for their operation. He also referred to the facilities as marine enhancement centers.
For over three years, he told the commissioners, the Wildlife Foundation of Florida has been working to assemble a network of hatcheries in Florida, with each facility operating with the support of local partners. There is a focus not only on the enhancement of native fish populations but on the marine plants that are such an important part of their habitat. These plants, Boston explained, are key to current restoration efforts in the gulf.
The reason for setting up a network of these facilities, Boston said, is that many Florida fish are very specialized in their genetic composition and behavior. It is generally not easy to produce fish in one area of the state and successfully move them to another area, he commented.
Therefore, he said, his organization has been working for a number of years on acquiring land in many areas of the state, along with doing engineering and design for these facilities.
Recently Walton County requested that Boston put together a cooperative partnership to examine the possibility of a hatchery/marine plant nursery or marine enhancement center in the county.
Working with Walton County, Northwest Florida State College, the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, and other partners, design concepts for a Walton County Marine Enhancement Center are underway and possible locations for the facility have been investigated, Boston commented. There has been discussion, he added, on how the partners could share space at the facility, on an “integrated working concept,” and on how to proceed with the initiative if county officials were to make the decision to do so.
He said a facility of approximately 60,000 square feet is envisioned, with a focus on greenhouses for production of marine plants for restoration.
“We don’t have a major nursery for the restoration efforts currently underway in the gulf, particularly for marine plants,” Boston told the commissioners. He noted that seagrass and other marine plants have been “really hard to come by,” in the current endeavor to restore the gulf in the wake of the BP oil spill.
Boston explained that marine enhancement centers also rely on plants for filtration of the hatchery effluent. Water coming from the hatcheries’ plant filtration system is then used for growing plants, he noted.
“It’s really an interesting recycling system, very green, and it gives us the plants we need to restore the fishery so we have the habitat out there for those juvenile fish that we might release to grow in,” Boston commented.
He said the college had requested 4,000 square feet at the facility for lab space in which water quality monitoring would take place. This would provide the capability for water quality monitoring within Walton County, Boston noted. He said the college had also requested space for a reef structure in connection with an oyster shell recycling effort that is underway, in which shells are collected from restaurants and other sources. The shells, he explained, are used for habitat restoration.
Likely fish species to be raised in the Walton County hatchery would be red snapper, red drum, and sea trout, and it would also be possible to raise gulf flounder, Boston said. These are recreational sports species that could be released for catch, he commented.
He revealed that there had been preliminary discussion with Northwest Florida State College about siting the Marine Enhancement Center on a 30-acre property directly on Churchill Bayou that the college has leased from the state. Boston said it would be possible to locate a very nice plant growing area on the south side of the property. The property features a natural drain area to the bayou that would be capable of being restored and put “back in shape,” he noted.
Boston said a plant nursery on the property could be very important in providing marine plants for restoration to counties in the region and to the state.
He told the commissioners that his organization has a standard hatchery design that is very modular and can be modified to suit any particular site.
District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones asked Boston how many jobs the Marine Enhancement Center would produce.
He responded that he had requested that an economist begin a study to determine that. However, basing his answer on a similar facility in Pensacola, he estimated a minimum of 100 jobs, not counting those associated with the construction of the center.
“You can easily look at 100 sustainable jobs,” Boston told Jones….
Read the full story in the November 3, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.