Reef Madness

When a current project off the beach east of Buccaneer Park is completed, fishermen will be rockin’ on Jailhouse Reef.

The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and a string of partners are building a new fishing reef in eight feet of water, close to Buccaneer and Bayou Caddy. The reef is expected to quickly become home to a variety of sought-after fish.

“This is going to create a great habitat for fish,” said Kerwin Cuevas, director of DMR’s Bureau of Artificial Reefs.

The structure is being built of old concrete being donated by various sources, including the cities of Bay St. Louis and Waveland and Hancock County. But Jailhouse Reef is so-named because its primary source of concrete comes from the former Hancock County Jail on Court Street in Old Town.

The jail was ruined by high water and winds from Hurricane Katrina. The old, two-story building stood abandoned until demolition began last year. The former jail site is now the location of a new parking garage and community center, currently under construction.

Huge chunks of concrete from the old jail will constitute much of the new reef. Aside from providing a fish habitat, the structure will also help prevent beach erosion, Cuevas said.

The reef is a joint project between DMR, Congressman Gene Taylor’s office, the Coastal Conservation Association, and Mississippi Gulf Fishing Banks. The reef is expected to attract a fisherman’s dream, with spotted sea trout and white trout, flounder, redfish, mullet, and other species inhabiting the underwater structure year-round.

In summer months, Spanish mackerel will also gravitate to the reef, Cuevas said.

Jailhouse Reef will consist of three legs built in a half-moon shape. Spaces 10 to 15 feet wide are being placed between the legs, to facilitate water flow.

This will become the third reef built along the Mississippi Coast in recent years. Another reef known as Handkerchief Shoal Key was built off Bay St. Louis before Hurricane Katrina, and has been productive for fishermen, Cuevas said.

In addition, there is another reef located south of Deer Island in Harrison County, Cuevas said.

Construction of Jailhouse Reef will speed up or slow down depending upon the flow of donated concrete. “Right now, we’re about a third of the way through,” Cuevas said. “We still have a long way to go.”

J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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