July 20, 2008

Our New Protein Factory

A couple of years after the cinematic demolition of the old Jamestown Bridge, the huge concrete piers that underpinned it have a useful new life on the floor of Rhode Island Sound. They are now arrayed in two artificial reefs in about 70 feet of water off Newport, where they have quickly attracted a lively population of fish and other marine life.

"There was an option to landfill it [the bridge]," said Charles St. Martin III, of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. Thankfully that option wasn't exercised. Scup, sea bass and other valuable fish find in the jumbled masses of stone, now covered in seaweed and barnacles, exactly what they want, places to hide and feed and lay eggs.

Anything that attracts fish will also attract fishermen, and these reefs, only a mile or two offshore, will probably get a lot of attention on balmy summer days, as do the nearby ledges of Brenton Reef. Indeed, some say that is a fault.

The Ocean Conservancy points to the hazards of overfishing. The history of conservation points the other way. Human efforts to improve habitat -- the example of Ducks Unlimited is instructive -- usually result in greater abundance of wildlife, even when these efforts are undertaken by hunters or fishermen.

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