CITGO Bassmaster Classic Conservation Summit Examines Gulf Coast

NEW ORLEANS - Every day, a little bit of Louisiana disappears as the Gulf of Mexico inches inland, swallowing up 25 to 35 square miles of coastal wetlands per year.

For someone living outside of the state, coastal erosion might not seem to be a problem.

"However, the shrinking of the Louisiana coast is problem with national ramifications," said Andy Kopplin, chief of staff for Louisiana Gov. M.J. "Mike' Foster.

"One-fourth of all oil and gas - foreign and domestic - that comes into the United States comes through pipelines that pass across the Louisiana Delta. If something were to happen to those pipelines, the price people in many states pay for oil and gas would increase dramatically," Kopplin said Friday during an environmental summit that is being held in conjunction with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.

"Also, much of the fish and shellfish that is sold throughout the country comes from the Louisiana Delta."

Kopplin said if the erosion is allowed to continue at the current rate, the oil and gas pipelines might have to be closed someday. The coastal marshes that provide habitat for many commercially important species of fish and shellfish could disappear if the Gulf of Mexico is allowed to continue creeping inland. The Delta is habitat to many birds and other wildlife.

Efforts to prevent flooding along the Mississippi River have reduced the amount of sediment being deposited in the Delta Region, Kopplin said. Instead of replenishing Delta land that sinks through natural processes, the sediment now is washed far into the Gulf of Mexico.

By creating diversion channels in the Mississippi River, planting vegetation in the delta to collect silt from the water, building marshes and other measures, the erosion can be slowed dramatically, said Robert Twilley, director of the Center for Ecology and Environmental Technology at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette.

But it is thought the project to slow the erosion will cost billions of dollars and could take 50 years to complete.

Kopplin said the state of Louisiana cannot afford to pay for the erosion control project alone and it is counting on federal help.

He asked anglers and fishing fans attending Friday's seminar to go back to their home states and urge residents and their federal lawmakers to support the Louisiana wetlands restoration project.

"We want the fishermen to be out messengers," Kopplin said.

Dean Kessel, vice president and general manager of BASS, pledged the organization's support to call attention to the erosion problem.

"It's not just a Louisiana problem. It's a national problem," said Bruce Shupp, conservation director for BASS. "It's a problem that must be addressed."

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.

Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Chevrolet Trucks, Yamaha Outboards, Mercury Marine, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Progressive Insurance, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, and BankOne.

Associate Sponsors include Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning and G3 Boats.

Local sponsors include the State of Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, and Jefferson Parish.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (504) 304-2563.