Bids will soon begin flowing in, for construction of Florida’s first saltwater production hatchery at Bruce Beach in downtown Pensacola.
The idea for a hatchery in Pensacola first surfaced in 2011. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had announced plans to build 14 of them around the state over the next 15 years, to help restock depleted fish populations in state waters.
“These things take a while to actually manifest themselves, but I want to assure folks that this project is 100% go,” said Gil McRae, Director of FWC’s Research Institute.
The project is being funded with $18.8 million from Natural Resource Damage Assessment funds – NRDA -- paid by BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
While the full budget for the hatchery is the $18.8 million, McRae says the actual construction cost is actually closer to nine million dollars for building a completely indoor recirculating aquaculture facility.
“You can think of it as a large set of tanks, similar to a home aquarium but with bigger plumbing,” McRae said. “The brood stock – the parent fish and the fish we spawn and raise in the hatchery will all be held indoors. “And then there’s an outside series of ponds that we use to treat the effluent from the hatchery.”
Plans also call for a man-made saltwater marsh to provide the final treatment of the affluent before its release back into Pensacola Bay. Meanwhile, no decision has been made as yet, on which species will be raised there.
“We’ve got a technical committee set up that’s advising us on that,” said McRae. “There’s a limited number of species that we know how to raise. It will be an in-shore species because we plan to stock our fish in-shores. The usual suspects in that group are things like redfish, sea trout, and flounder.”
Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward was unavailable for comment. But speaking last year, he said he was ready to move forward with the project, adding that there could be other funding – from BP and the State of Florida -- that could go to the city.
“Pensacola needs all the help it can get from an infrastructure standpoint,” said the Mayor. “You know, that money was available [and] we went after it.”
At the time, Hayward said the hatchery at Bruce Beach would create up to 18 jobs, along with working to help protect the environment.
“I know there are some concerns about water quality,” said Hayward. “But talking about the sport fishermen, the water quality on the bay, what they have told me, is the best it’s ever been. But we’re going to go above and beyond to make sure that our I’s are dotted and our T’s are crossed.”
The recently-completed prep work at the site also made sure that there was no serious contamination; no protected species were endangered; and there were no historical artifacts in harm’s way.
According to the current process, which ranges from two to two and a half years, the hatchery is expected to begin operations either in late 2017 or early 2018.