Delta Dispatches Podcast – Fisheries
In this episode, Simone talks with Captain Ryan Lambert of Cajun Fishing Adventures to talk about coastal restoration. Later in the show, Dr. John Lopez, Director, Coastal Sustainability Program with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, joins the program to talk with Jacques about saving Louisiana’s fisheries.
Below is a transcript of this week’s Delta Dispatches Podcast. Listen to the full recording here or subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.
Jacques: Hello, you’re listening to Delta Dispatches as we’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, it’s people, wildlife and jobs and why restoring it matters.
Simone: Hey, Jacques.
Jacques: Hey, Simone. How’s it going? Episode Four, we’re becoming pros at this.
Simone: Yay! So Jacques, have you had enough crawfish yet?
Jacques: You know, I haven’t had any crawfish yet. I’m ashamed of myself.
Simone: It’s the Crawfish Festival this weekend.
Jacques: I know, I’ve spent a lot of time at the Crawfish Festival down in Chalmette when I was little kid. So hopefully, I’ll be able to head over there this weekend.
Simone: I love the idea of a little Jacques at the Crawfish Festival. Well today we’re talking about crawfish, we talking about fisheries; We’re talking about lots of cool things today.
Jacques: Yeah our topic for the show is Louisiana’s fisheries and obviously, it’s an important reason why we love the coast. It’s a huge economic driver. Louisiana is the number one provider of shrimp, oysters, blue crabs, crawfish and alligators in the US.
Simone: Wow, what a fact. Is there going to be a test on something like that later?
Jacques: There could be a test. Another fact, coastal Louisiana provides nearly 30 percent of commercial landings in the continental United States. So we’re going to be talking about our fisheries, our estuaries, why it’s important to advance restoration to protect them over the long-term.
Simone: And 75 percent of Louisiana’s commercial fin and shellfish species depend on wetlands for spawning, nursing habitat and feeding. Did you know that?
Jacques: I didn’t but I do now; And if you want to learn more facts about that, you can go on our website MississippiRiverDelta.org.
Simone: I’m really glad that fact was written down right in front of me. All right Jacques, I’m going to take over the first half. We’ll see you in the second half and then we’ll come together and we’ll talk about our week.
Jacques: Sounds good.
Simone: Okay, thanks Jacques.
So first up, we are lucky enough to have one of the busiest guys around these days, Captain Ryan Lambert. Captain Lambert owns Cajun Fishing Adventures, the largest sports fishing and hunting lodge in the south. If you haven’t heard it or seen it online, it’s a beautiful, beautiful fishing lodge.
He’s very, very busy these days. Captain Lambert, you on the phone with us?
Captain Lambert: I sure am. How are you today?
Simone: Hey! You told me you have 20-something guests with you right now?
Captain Lambert: We had 30 but I came back from D.C. last night and I fell out with something that just beat me up.
Simone: Aww, well we’ll treat you right. I promise to throw you some softballs and some easy questions.
Captain Lambert: I know you will, I’m not worried about that. This is too important not to talk.
Simone: Well listen, you’re a really popular guy. You’ve been on the Outdoor Channel, ESPN, Field and Stream, Garden and Gun. You’ve done some things for our coalition here. You’re just the guy to talk about these things. So when we were talking about fisheries, we wanted to make sure that we had you on.
So let’s start at the beginning. Let’s talk about little Ryan Lambert, little growing up in the marshes. Tell us what that was like.
Captain Lambert: Well that’s what did. We all grew up on the canal every single day. If Mama wanted to find us, she’d just start at one end of the canal and just drive to the other end and there we were. But in the swamp as well. You know, I’ve been guiding almost 40 years now. It’s been a great journey, I’ve met millions of people and it’s been a great life. I don’t know if I could’ve done anything better to be more fulfilling and have people around you and people that enjoy being there.
When people tell me on their dying bed that the last thing they talked about was the bull red they caught this year. I mean that’s special stuff.
Simone: Yeah, that is great. Is this always something you wanted to do? I was kidding about little Ryan Lambert. Is this something you always wanted to do is making a living off of Louisiana’s coast?
Captain Lambert: I worked for a chemical plant, Monsanto Chemical, for 21 years. And it got to where once I started guiding I had to work all nights and fish all day. I just was working myself to death so I left and started by myself. Now we’re a large operation. It’s been a very good move. Carmen cried the first week but she’s never cried since.
Simone: So if you don’t mind, Ryan, if you want to tell us a little bit, you haven’t had an easy road, especially with your Cajun Fishing Adventures. You’ve had a couple of bumps along the road. I mean if it’s okay do you want to talk about maybe some of your Katrina experiences or even the oil spill and how those things that happened to us here really impacted you in your business and how you rebounded for that. That’s what we love about you. You have a great story to tell and it’s got a good ending.
Captain Lambert: At the end of it all; When you think about the oil spill and you think about Hurricane Katrina, those are just sores on the cancer. The cancer is coastal restoration. Coastal erosion.
You can talk about everything. The hardships we’ve been through and 30 years from now somebody will take a core sample and say, “Look at that, in 2010 they must’ve had an oil spill. And look at these slabs around here. Boy, must’ve had a heck of a hurricane.”
That’s not what it’s about because no one will be there. I did something I haven’t done in a long time and I took a walk in the swamp. Where we used to sleep in sleeping bags, there’s two foot of water now. In the swamp. All the trees are dying. All those big live oaks are under water. People don’t think about the swamp, they think about the marshes. But the whole ecosystem is sinking and it’s very disheartening.
You know and if you think about it, when the redfish come in and they spawn offshore and trillion and trillions of baby larvae coming into our marshes. If there’s nowhere to hide, there’s no edge grass, there’s no aquatic vegetation. One little croaker could eat 100 a day because they’re microscopic. So let’s say you have a million croakers, that’s 100 million redfish a day are getting eaten.
Our fishery has dwindled in the last 30 years by probably 50 percent. Our trapping industry is complete gone. Everything’s suffering. We lost 2,000 square miles of land but we’ve lost 10,000 square miles of habitat. So when you say, “Man, Ducks Unlimited, they must be stopping the ducks. Man, they’re gone, they come and they’re gone.” But they don’t have anything to eat. You know you might have grass in your pond but the big giant picture; Because those ducks will go from here to Arkansas in one day. No big deal for them. They don’t have nothing else to do except fly around and eat.
Simone: And not get shot right?
Captain Lambert: Yeah. In the ’70s, we had about a quarter of the ducks we have now and we’re wintering three million ducks less now than we did in the ’70s. That is pretty telling.
Simone: So Ryan, you grew up in the Barataria Basin. You worked out of Buras and in worked that area. You have seen the changes but you’ve been a positive person and you’ve been an active spokesperson for coastal restoration. So after Katrina and oil spill and after seeing what you see when you walk in the marsh and when you work it every day; How do you stay so positive about it?
Captain Lambert: Well because I know it can be fixed. I’m a lot different than most folks because I have diversions in my area. We’ll float 400,000 cubic feet per second from Ostrica Locks all the way to Baptiste Collette. So we’re flowing 400,000 … I’ve grown up in these diversions. I’ve seen how they grow land. I see what they do for the fishery. I see what they do for the ducks. So I know it could be fixed so I really, I know that it can happen.
But the reason I was in D.C. this week is when the Court told us that we can get a permit on October, 31st of 2022; That is unacceptable.
Simone: I agree.
Captain Lambert: Unacceptable. Because if you think about it, everybody’s flood insurance is going up 20 percent a year until you get the 100 percent increase. When you build a new house in South Louisiana now, you have to put 40, $50,000 worth of dirt on your lot or put it on pylons.
That’s all due to coastal erosion. You know, it’s killing the fishery, it’s killing the people; And if we wait as long as they want, we will lose another 80 square miles of habitat. New Orleans can’t survive if we lose 80 square miles more. We can’t survive the next hurricane; it’s going to be catastrophic.
Simone: So Ryan, you are active. You do go to D.C. A couple of shows ago, we talked about Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan. You were part of the framework development team, you’re actively engaged. How do you help tell this story to people just like you?
Other guides, other captains, other guys who make their living off of this industry. How do you tell them and how do you get them to be so active and be a spokesperson for coastal restoration as well?
Captain Lambert: Well the best way that I’ve found, especially the naysayers that said there’s not enough sediment in the river, that it’s all polluted and it’s going to make hypoxia. The best thing to do is get them in my boat, don’t say a word and take them and show them.
Simone: I’ve been with you a couple of times, you tell a great story.
Captain Lambert: Every concern they have, I take them to an example of that concern. I let them judge for their self if they’re right or wrong. I’ve done it to some big time naysayers and at the end of the day like “Oh, my gosh. How are you the only one that knows this?” I say you’re hanging around with the wrong folks, that’s all.
Simone: In the right place, though.
Captain Lambert: You can’t use propaganda and take one sentence out of a report and act like that’s fact. You have to go out there and live it and learn it. I just got a million dollar Norca grant in conjunction with Ducks Unlimited to build another terrace. We’re going to build about 3,500 acres.
Captain Lambert: And yeah, as soon as I get those permits. You know you go lobby for this money and you work so hard to get it and then you have to wait months or years for a permit. They can no longer accept this.
Simone: We’re going to take a little break if you don’t mind hanging on with us just a second. But we do like to end on a fun note. Favorite season? Duck, deer, crawfish or snowball? What’s your favorite season?
Captain Lambert: Duck, no doubt about it. For about 80 days a year.
Simone: All right, Captain Lambert. We’ll be back with you after the break.
Captain Lambert: Okeydokey.
Simone: Hey we’re back. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. Where we discuss Louisiana’s coast, people, wildlife and jobs and why restoring it matters. I am fortunate enough to have Captain Ryan Lambert with me on the phone. He pretty much defines why people, wildlife and jobs for Louisiana’s coast and why it matters.
So let’s talk about that Norco grant a little bit. Tell us how you even went about it, what it’s about and we can talk about the process a little bit more too.
Captain Lambert: Of what?
Simone: Of the Norco Grant. That you were just mentioning before we left, yeah.
Captain Lambert: Yeah you can get a project and you turn your project in-
Simone: It’s Congress right? That’s a Congressional Act?
Captain Lambert: Yeah without a doubt. They’ll grade it and a bunch of different entities in Congress look at it. Mine scored 65, which is real high. Then they’ll award the grant. I’ll probably get the money sometime this summer. I got it engineered and ready to go. I just need the permits. As soon as we do that, I’ll bid the job out.
Everybody says, “Well how can you do that?” I say everybody else can do it, a company can do it, why can’t an individual? You just have to take the bull by the horns sometimes and get something done. We can’t wait any longer. I mean we are washing away.
Simone: Yeah Norco’s been a good source for one of the many different funding revenues for Louisiana. It’s been a good, steady source for us. Ducks has done a really, really great job tapping into that. And so I’m glad to hear that you’ve also made good use of that.
You’re right. I heard somebody once say that we had 41 different funding sources here in Louisiana. Sometimes they’re not always huge but sometimes it’s the slow and steady that wins the race, right? And you were able to take an opportunity to like you said, grab that bull by the horns and get some work done.
I want to talk a little bit about your lodge and the work you do. I know that you have been a gracious host to us many, many times when we really wanted to tell the story; Especially the freshwater story and diversions and why they’re important. You know, about taking Congressional staff out.
Why don’t we talk a little bit about what a typical day might be when you do host one of those kind of staff fly-ins and where do you take people, what do they see and what do you really try to leave them with?
Captain Lambert: When they fly in, if you take them on the west side, we’ve lost 6.3 miles of land. 100 percent land is gone. So I could take them over there and I could show them pylons where camps used to be. And actually people lived there. It wasn’t camps back then. Then we’d go out the back door and they would run the traps, they’d paddle across the bayou right there. They’d have fish fries together, shrimp boils.
It’s gone. There’s not a spec of land. All they have is abandoned pylons. And if you know where to go, you can drive right through them and you can see the bayou still and it’s so disheartening to see this. I’ve seen raccoons hanging on PVC pipes, in the middle of a bay without any water in a mile. I mean, no land in a mile away. So, it’s very disheartening to see what’s happened to Louisiana. And it’s ongoing. A football field every hour or less. That’s pretty substantial. So far we’ve lost more land than the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is 1,906 square miles. We’ve lost over 2,000 and losing another 16 square miles every year.
Simone: Wow, that’s a great way to think about it.
Captain Lambert: Yeah I’d like to do it like that instead of saying a football field every hour. You think of a football field … You start thinking about the Grand Canyon, now you’re thinking about something.
Simone: Right. You’re right, you’re right.
Captain Lambert: You know I don’t talk too much about my lodge and all that stuff. We sleep 35 people, we do breakfast, lunch and dinner-
Simone: It’s beautiful though, it’s a beautiful lodge.
Captain Lambert: Eighteen boats and seven duck guys so we all duck hunt in the morning, fish in the evening.
Simone: You feed them good?
Captain Lambert: North America. So it’s an entertainment business and it’s been very well to us. But as you know, where my passion is.
Simone: I do.
Captain Lambert: Now that I’m older, you know.
Simone: Yeah. So again, you take some of these Congressional staff out. What, like I said, if you have to leave them … When these guys leave you, they’re with you for maybe 24 hours or something. These people that help influence decisions in Congress. What do you want them to walk away and leave Louisiana with?
Captain Lambert: On the diversion side, show them how they work. Put to bed every fear they have; Hypoxia, sentiment, dirty water, toxins, hypoxia and how it fixes it. Everything that they have a probably with, I take them and show them how to fix it. Or what mother nature does. Why do you need environment researchers to come and tell us, “Well I don’t know if you can put the river back.” Why? Mother Nature had it wrong in the first place? Is that what you’re trying to say, you’re smarter than Mother Nature?
One thing that’s so important that I want to leave all the listeners to; You hear people say “You need to call your Senator, you need to call your Congressman.” Let me tell people how that works so they’re not intimidated. You get that number and you call and you talking to a young man or a young woman at the front desk. They type in what you say and they’ll give you the Senator or Congressman’s take on it, what he believes and you tell them yours. Then they will type that into the computer. It’s all about numbers.
Everyone in South Louisiana has to call in and tell them to get the core moving. We don’t have … Look, we have a 50-year Master Plan. If we have to wait six years for every permit, we just assume have a 500-year Master Plan. I said, because I’ll be 60 this year and I am just working so hard to get something done before I go. And it drives me crazy.
Simone: So certainly the news last week, that it could take five years to get a permit out of the Corps. We are believers that, that’s entirely too long, we have too much to lose, we don’t have enough time, we don’t have enough resources. You’re right, we have to …
The Chairman of the CPRA had a really great quote at the CPRA meeting, which was here in New Orleans last week. He said “You know the train’s coming down the track and we’ll be blowing the horn.” So he does need to hear from people that this is too important and it’s not acceptable.
Captain Lambert: And to think that we gave him a $1.5 million to expedite it. And the President put it on the dashboard to make sure it stays in everybody’s vision and it’s still going to take almost six years? Uh-uh. Ain’t happening.
Simone: So Ryan, when you were in D.C., you have federal delegation members, we have Congressman that are really working with us. Can you talk a little bit about any of your experiences with our own delegation on this particular issue?
Captain Lambert: Yeah, our delegation is leading the way and Congressman Graves; Everybody looks to him because he’s such an expert at it and he’s the one that has enough knowledge on coastal restoration that when he gets in front of the court, he just rips them up. And he’s the one that all our leadership is looking to.
But I saw every one of our Congressional leaders, every one of our Senators then I met with Ducks Unlimited, at their corporate office. I had talked to a few lobbyists. I made every second of my day count when I was there. I talked to everybody that would listen to me and I think we did a lot of good.
Captain Lambert: That’s what makes it, you know? You gotta go and you gotta let them hear you.
Simone: Yeah, your right. It is a grind, right? But you do have to go see all of them, you have to make it known. We’re a nonprofit organization and we work on this issue every day but when we get other voices and voices like your own that are out there, every day working. It’s really important and it’s really different.
We’re going to wrap up really soon here, Ryan; But we wanted to make sure that we said a little bit of something about the Master Plan, the Master Plan comments. Or do this Sunday? You want to leave with any good things to say about the Master Plan? You’re on the framework development team with me, you were part of the grind for a while.
Captain Lambert: Again, it’s a great comprehensive plan to do things but they all work in concert with one another. So the centerpiece is Mid-Barataria diversion. So until we get that, we can’t have anything going to it. The reason I’m doing my project is to show how to put terrace in and how to slow the land down and build land more expedient.
Hopefully, they’ll take this model that I’m doing and use it when we do Mid-Barataria. So you only have one chance to do it right the first time and we need to make sure that happens.
Simone: Perfect. Thank you so much for being our guest. Captain Ryan Lambert of Cajun Fishing Adventures. I’ve asked you many times and you’ve always, always offered. I am going to come finishing with you.
Captain Lambert: Don’t threaten me.
Simone: All right, thanks so much, Ryan.
Captain Lambert: You’re very welcome, Simone. Bye-bye.
Jacques: And we’re back. This is Jacques Hebert and today I’m speaking to Dr. John Lopez, with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. John has been the Director of LPBF’s Coastal Sustainability Program, which conducts coastal restoration and research since 2005.
He worked for the US Army Corp of Engineers and Project Management for the Coastal Restoration Branch; Including assignments with the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act in the Louisiana coastal area ecosystem restoration study.
In 2005, he developed and advocated the multiple lines of defense strategy for coastal Louisiana; Which has gained broad acceptance throughout the state. As Director, he coordinated LPVF activities with numerous local and national NGOs and Universities. From 2009 to present, he has served on the state’s Framework Development Team to advise on the state’s new Master Plan for 2012.
He’s currently a member of the Coastal Advisory Committee for the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East and the Caernarvon Inter-Agency Advisory Committee.
Welcome to the show, John.
Dr. John Lopez: Thanks, Jacques. Glad to be on.
Jacques: It’s great to have you here and I know we’re talking about fisheries today. So before you came on, we were talking the LPVF just did a ghost trap, a rodeo show down in Delacroix, is that correct?
Dr. John Lopez: Yeah. We did, there was a closure of the traps over crab fishing for a month. Trying to reduce the harvest. Wildlife and fisheries allowed folks to kind of take advantage of that closure to retrieve some of the abandoned traps. We’ve all seen them out on the waterways, out on the lake. You see the crab trap floats and sometimes those traps are lost and therefore abandoned. They stay on the bottom and they keep killing crabs and fish. So we were very lucky with weather and we picked up, with all of our volunteers and everything, about 4,000 traps around Delacroix.
Jacques: Wow, yeah that’s great. I know for folks that may not be familiar, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has done a lot of work to actually save the lake and help bring back the water quality. You’ve got an amazing lighthouse that’s open for public touring on the lakefront. You’re helping them bring back Pontchartrain Beach, is that correct?
Why don’t you give us a little bit of overview of LPVF and the work you all do.
Dr. John Lopez: Yeah, we’ve been around since 1989. A lot of people know us as the Save the Lake Group. That’s kind of been our logo for a long time. In the last decade, we’ve also added Save Our Coast. So from the beginning, our entire mission was about protecting, restoring environments of the Pontchartrain Basin. That actually includes, not just the lake but everything east of the Mississippi River. So it goes all the way down to the Delta, includes Plaquemines and St. Bernard and all of the North Shore.
So we’ve had a lot of success cleaning up the Lake Pontchartrain with a lot of sportsman community. In 2012, we finished completing the reconstruction of the New Canal Lighthouse; Which is a museum and an education center. It’s open to the public, six days of the week so please come on out and see us.
But with all that said, we’ve put a lot of folks in the last few years on our coast and I think that’s kind of one of the things we want to try and talk about today. We all know our coast is suffering and we’re putting a lot of effort, working with a lot of folks, the state and the feds to try and repair our coast.
Jacques: Yeah and we’re glad that you’re here today because you certainly are an expert and you’ve been working on this for quite a while. So I have to ask, since you are the brainchild behind the incredibly powerful multiple lines of defense strategy; We touched on this a little bit in a previous show but you’re here and we want to hear straight from the source.
So can you give folks an overview of what is the multiple lines of defense strategy?
Dr. John Lopez: Yeah frankly, when I was working at the Corps, it was kind of strange in one respect that you go down the hall and you have people working on levies. You go down the other end of the hall and you have people doing coastal restoration. It just occurred to me that our situation is getting so dire here with our vulnerability from storms that it made sense to look at them together.
So that was kind of a foundational thing and so rather than when we think flood protection, thinking strictly about levies, we basically use the whole kitchen sink. I mean, everything in the kitchen sink. We use our natural coast, our barrier islands, the natural ridges, the marshland bridges along with levies and flood walls. But even inside the levies, you’re not totally protected and so we recommend elevated housing, both the inside and outside of levies. And finally, the thing that protects people is evacuation. So that’s one of the multiple lines of defense.
Jacques: We talk a lot about the need for a lot of lines of defense so that the levies aren’t our one and only last line of defense of production.
Dr. John Lopez: One way we like to put it sometimes is we need our levies to protect our concentrated assets, like our cities; But we need our wetlands to protect our levies.
Jacques: And in some cases elevation and evacuation. You, yourself, you live in an area that’s somewhat vulnerable from storms in Slidell. And prior to Katrina, I believe you said your home was elevated and then you elevated it even further after Katrina.
So can you talk a little bit, for folks who may be going through that or have gone through that, what that experience was like for you?
Dr. John Lopez: I mean, my wife and I, we live on the North Shore like a lot of folks who were impacted by Katrina. Actually I just happened to be reflecting on it the other day. In our old house was these beautiful redwood ceilings. Tongue groove redwood ceilings throughout the whole house and it was a really nice part of the house. After Katrina, we did not have even a single splinter of that redwood.
The whole house was gone and of course, that happened to a lot of folks. We thought hard about whether we wanted to move back where we were and thought about other locations. In the end, we said this is where we really want to be. So we’re not exactly the same location, it’s about 10 feet higher. It’s the same place on the Earth but about 10 feet higher. We’re now about +20.
Jacques: Yeah and we are going to kind of dive into that in a future episode. Just nonstructural and home elevation. That’s those topics, which are hugely important to the coastal challenges we face in the future.
But getting to the topic at hand today with what Simone was talking with Captain Lambert about fisheries; I mean you, John, have spent a lot of time out on coastal wetlands and marshes. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve seen, as it relates to the state of our estuaries? Are they healthy?
Dr. John Lopez: For the most part now, there are some good areas for various reasons but basically, our coast is shrinking and sinking. With that, it’s increasing our vulnerability. It makes it easier for the storm surge to come in. So our risk has gone up. Even though the levies have been rebuilt, our coast continues to decline. There are some areas where the coast is relatively healthy but that’s kind of rare; And generally it’s areas where the river is still flowing and replenishing the marsh.
Jacques: So we talked about the different causes of land loss but in terms of the estuaries and fisheries, what has caused that kind of imbalance?
Dr. John Lopez: Well there’s really a multitude of things but a lot of those things folks I think are fairly familiar with. For the most part, it was people that caused it. There’s a certain amount of natural loss that can occur but that has been dramatically accelerated by things like oil and gas canals, the extraction fluids cause subsidence whether it’s groundwater, oil or gas.
There are impoundments, levies; Although we need levies to protect our cities, as I said. Levies in the wrong place can actually cause a lot of damage.
Jacques: Yeah and we highlighted some key staff at the top of the show; But commercial fishing industry produces 35% of all seafood in the nation, right here in Louisiana. So our fisheries are important. And thinking about the future, if we continue on the path that we’re on, what does the future look like for our fisheries without some of these large-scale restoration and just restoration across the coast.
Dr. John Lopez: Well there’s one aspect of the coast that is a little bit of a paradox but of course the fish and crabs, they eat food. And that food is in a form a lot of times of vegetation. When our marsh falls apart, it actually creates extra food for a while. And so a lot of the biologists think that we’re kind of in that phase actually. Our fisheries hasn’t totally declined; In part because our marsh is falling apart.
Virtually all the scientists feel like there’s a tipping point; That a certain point, we’ve lost so much there’s not even enough dead vegetation to keep things going. Of course vegetation is the bottom of the food chain and when you lose that, things just cascade down from there.
Jacques: So what would that look like, in essence? Would you see a decline in a lot of these key species that we depend on? Both for consumption; I mean, we all love our seafood. But also, as an industry.
Dr. John Lopez: Well I won’t say this is a proven scientific situation but there is some evidence for this; Which to me, maybe illustrates an answer or response to your question. A lot of people are familiar with that pelicans have almost lost in Louisiana due to DBT. Years ago, they were reintroduced. They were actually brought in from Florida. They were managed, protected; And the pelican populations have been growing.
But at the same time the pelican population has been growing, our marsh has been declining. In the last year, some biologists have reported they’re actually seeing mortality of pelicans that they think that native populations have reached a carrying potential for pelicans. So here you have a situation where one is increasing and this ecosystem is declining and now you’ve reached that juxtaposition of where you’ve reached that carrying capacity.
So that’s kind of illustrative that basically any organism, there’s a certain carry capacity of the system. That could be fish, crabs. But basically you would see it in population decline, eventually.
Jacques: That’s a good point to. I mean, it’s not just fisheries and fish, it’s alligators, it’s waterfowl that all depend on our freshwater habitats. So in terms of, I mean obviously we all want to avoid that worst case scenario and that future. So how can restoration help return a healthy balance to our estuaries?
Dr. John Lopez: I think that’s a good way to describe it; A healthy balance. Because to me, what that suggests is we’re not trying not rebuild it all. I think pretty much, all the scientists agree that’s too ambitious. We can’t recover everything we had but we hope that we can restore enough that maintains enough of a footprint to protect our coast, protect our cities and have a functional estuary.
But as we look at those environmental conditions, that’s getting more daunting and that footprint gets smaller. But to a large degree, that also means reconnecting the river. That not just builds wetlands but it restores that functionality.
Jacques: Okay great. We are going to talk a little bit more about this after the break. Both about kind of the Master Plan and what some of these projects could potentially do.
We’re also going to talk about an amazing resource that Dr. John Lopez and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin have developed that has provided a lot of information and has served as a tool for fisherman. So we’ll get to that right after the break. We’re here on Delta Dispatches with Dr. John Lopez.
Jacques: And we’re back. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches and I’m here with Dr. John Lopez, Director of Coastal Sustainability at the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
So before the break, we were talking a little bit about fisheries, changes in fisheries and then what particular restoration projects that can avoid that worst case scenario of the future. Thinking about the current Master Plan, the Draft Master Plan that’s out; Its open for public comment until Sunday.
Can you talk a little bit, John, about what the Master Plan says about changes in solemnities and how that might impact different species over time?
Dr. John Lopez: Sure. Thanks, Jacques. Being a member and many folks have seen the prior Master Plans, like in 2012. But this 2017 Master Plan is different from the prior plans in that when they project the land loss now, it’s more catastrophic. It’s kind of landscape scale changing. Basically as the coast breaks apart, it makes it easier for the gulf salinity to move in.
Under the scenarios they’re looking at, in 50 years without restoration, essentially the Gulf of Mexico is all within the interior bay. So actually we would have very high salinities. Even too high for oysters and many other species. Essentially we would be the Gulf of Mexico in our coast. That’s without action.
With action, restoration, the marsh creation helps reduce that salinity intrusion. But the freshwater diversions also help mitigate that. So really, it’s kind of the reverse of frankly, some of the thinking; That people are thinking the system’s going to get super fresh. But actually, long-term the coast breaks apart so badly that really fighting a huge amount of salt water that will come in.
Jacques: Speaking about those changes in solemnities and fluctuations, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and yourself have developed a really powerful tool that can help monitor and track changes in solemnities across our basins; And a lot of fisherman have actually used it, as a resource.
It’s called the HydroCoast. So can you tell us a little bit about that tool and how is it developed and what it does?
Dr. John Lopez: Yeah actually the initial inspiration for HydroCoast was actually if anyone uses the weather channel but Wonder Map. If you remember, the Wonder Map was an ice map that kind of portrayed all kinds of weather conditions, radar, rainfall, lightning even. So we said, “Well can we do the same thing for the coast?”
So we developed a series of maps that portrays the conditions of the coast. Basically of the water. One of those main things is the salinity. So every two weeks we put out these maps, so it’s kind of an ongoing snapshot of the basin for a whole array of things; salinity, water quality, we even monitor fishing activity. We fly reconnaissance and map where the oyster boats are at, where the shrimp boats are at.
It’s actually five different maps that come out every two weeks. Of course, they’re on our website. We send out notices. If you want to get them individually, all you gotta do is send us an email and we’ll get you on the list. On our website you’ll find not just the most current, but all the archive; Which now we have going on four years of data.
So the fisherman, they know salinity affects things and so the oyster fisherman watch it, the shrimp fisherman can watch it. Sometimes they actually will try to measure it themselves. In some cases, they don’t need to do that because they can just go to our maps.
So we think it basically informs the recreational, commercial fisherman but also scientists. We’ve had a lot of very positive interest by the scientists because they get to see the snapshot but also over time, all those snapshots end up creating a cumulative shifting baseline of conditions. So you can start to see the trajectory of the basin, over the short term.
Jacques: Yeah and for those who are interested, you can go onto their website, SaveOurLake.org; To access the maps and kind of see them, as they’re updated.
So in terms of … You know, you launched the program in 2012 and you were just mentioning changes over time. Have you seen any trends since you launched Hydrocoast?
Dr. John Lopez: Yeah but let me put a little context on that. We started the Hydrocoast as Jacques said, in 2012. But in this area, a lot of folks realize that in 2009, the MRGO was closed with two structures. And we weren’t doing Hydrocoast but we were monitoring salinity and a lot of other folks. In 2009, with the MRGO closure, solemnities came down pretty significant. Especially near the MRGO.
But since 2012, you know we’re seeing that lower salinity but over the years from 12 to 13, 14, 15, solemnities have been coming up slightly. Not as low as they were of course when the MRGO was open; But the short-term trend is actually a slight increase in salinity. That probably reflects rainfall and other kind of variable of freshwater inflows into the basin.
Jacques: So you said you’re currently monitoring within the Barataria and Pontchartrain Basins. Do you have plans to expand it in the future, across the coast?
Dr. John Lopez: Well it’d be great to do that. At this point, I don’t think we’re going to be able to expand the areas that we’re doing it. But what we’d like to do is in Barataria. Right now, we’re only producing the maps every two months. On Pontchartrain, we do it every two weeks.
When you do it every two weeks, it allows you to do more analysis. For instance, with the Pontchartrain data, we were able to analyze the suitability over those years for oysters, by looking at the solemnity. So it was very interesting, we got a lot of positive response for that. It also matched where it looked like the oyster fisherman were going because I said we monitor the oyster boats. So it kind of confirmed what we thought.
We also used the cumulative Hydrocoast to evaluate the suitability for cypress restoration and we were surprised to see that there’s about 120 square miles now that are suitable for cypress restoration. A lot of that area helps provide flood protection. So we’re actually very excited about that.
On the Barataria side, if we can go to a more frequent, maybe once a month that will allow us to do some more robust analysis like that for oysters or cypress.
Jacques: That’s great and I know the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has done a lot of cypress planting in the Braithwaite area. Lake Maurepas area and there’s a lot of volunteer opportunities. So you can learn about both Hydrocoast and getting involved in helping plant in our marshes on SaveOurLake.org.
So thank you so much, John, for being on the show. We really appreciate it and hopefully we can have you back soon.
Dr. John Lopez: Okay. Thank you, Jacques.
Simone: And I’m back.
Jacques: Hey, Simone. So as a reminder to everyone, there are only three days left before the public comment period for the draft, Coastal Master Plan closes. So go online to Coastal.LA.gov to submit your comments by this Sunday, March 26th.
And Simone, I don’t know am I going to see you in Chalmette at the Crawfish Festival?
Simone: I, unlike you, I didn’t grow up as a little child running around. I grew up in Houma. But I did have a bayou in my front yard. I had a real, legit bayou in the front yard. We used to kick over the crawfish mounds.
But just to go back, you mentioned the Coastal Master Plan. Comments close out March 26th. There are some very easy ways for you to comment. There’s easy access to the information online, on the CPRA’s website; Coastal.LA.gov. Actually you can submit your comments directly online.
The executive summary, the short version of the plan is available in four different languages, thanks to some help from the Greater New Orleans Foundation. Vietnamese, Spanish, French and English. I think y’all also have a way online too, right? That you can comment.
Jacques: That’s correct.So next week, you’re going to be out of town.
Simone: I’m going to be in D.C. yeah, Ryan talked about hitting the pavement in D.C. I’ll be there so you’re all by yourself.
Jacques: I’m flying solo but we’re going to be talking about culture and why it’s important to restore the coast to protect our culture. Which is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, as it is to yours. So I hope everyone has a great week.
Simone: Don’t forget to go to Dat Dog.
Jacques: Dat Dog, this weekend.
Simone: To support Louisiana Wildlife Federation.
Jacques: Louisiana Wildlife Federation and have some good hot dogs.
Simone: All right, don’t have too much fun without me.
Jacques: Bye Simone.
Simone: Bye Jacques.