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Ship sunk to rebuild reef

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — On Nov. 24, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR), in partnership with Mississippi Gulf Fishing Banks (MGFB), deployed a retired fishing vessel donated by Omega Protein Inc. to be used as an artificial reef habitat.

The Great Wicomico, a 176-foot fishing vessel formerly used by Omega Protein for its fishing operations in Reedville, Va., was submerged in Fish Haven 13, about 13 miles south of Horn Island in Mississippi waters. Omega Protein hosted a dedication ceremony for the submersion of the vessel.

“This is the second largest vessel we’ve sunk so far,” said DMR Artificial Reef Bureau director Kerwin Cuevas. “This is a great addition to Mississippi’s artificial reefs and we’d like to thank Omega Protein and Mississippi Gulf Fishing Banks for working in partnership to increase our reef fish habitat off the state of Mississippi.”

Before a vessel can be deployed, all fuel, oil, engines and any wood must be removed and the fuel tanks pressure-washed. It is then inspected to be sure there are no remaining hazardous materials. To deploy the vessel, holes are cut along the water line and wood patches placed over the holes. Once at the deployment site, the patches are removed to allow water to overtake and sink the boat.

Omega Protein donated the vessel and shared the cost of cleaning and sinking the vessel with MGFB utilizing NOAA Emergency Disaster Relief Program funds.

About 90 percent of Mississippi’s artificial reefs were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. A little more than 60 percent of those reefs have been rebuilt.

Omega Protein Inc. makes its products from menhaden, an omega-3 rich fish that is abundantly available along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts. The company has been part of the Jackson County community for roughly 50 years and currently employs 260 Mississippi residents.

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