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Work set to start on artificial reef

Down on your fishing luck? Help is on the way. Construction of the county's second artificial fishing reef begins this week. A total of 190 concrete culverts will be dumped 17 miles off the county coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

Built with the help of a $20,000 grant from the state Department of Natural Resources, the pipes become the perfect home for a variety of fish.

"A novice fisherman, all he has to do is set the LORAN number and he can pretty much depend on getting some bottom fish," said Jim Townsend, the owner of Townsend Marine of Yankeetown, which is building the reef.

By plugging LORAN (long-range navigation) coordinates into a boat's directional system, boat owners can find their way to the spot.

The reef, named after Hernando County Port Authority Chairman Jim Champion, will be about 20 feet deep, Townsend said, and become a welcome breeding home for so-called bottom fish.

"Grouper, snapper, grunts, black-rocked bass _ and stone crabs really get attracted to the reef," said Townsend.

A tugboat named Brutus is expected to push the 80-ton barge loaded with concrete pipe out into the Gulf later this week for the three-day job off Hernando.

"It's good clean salvage," Townsend said of the pipe, which comes from an old area mining operation and will be rolled off the barge into the Gulf.

The new reef will be about five miles south of the county's other artificial reef, known as the A.H. Richardson Artificial Reef.

For the past five years, the state's artificial reef program has been building some 20 reef projects annually at an average cost of $20,000 each, said Virginia Vail, who runs the program in Tallahassee.

The program, financed by a federal grant and saltwater fishing license fees, aims to create a "a pretty, dynamic, productive reef community" once the concrete pipes become covered with sponges, barnacles, alga and anemones.

The new reef's LORAN coordinates are 14337.0 and 45160.0. Using the compass coordinates, go to the Hernando Beach turn light in the Gulf, then go 13.4 miles at 296 degrees.

The Port Authority also announced that it will begin construction of a retaining wall at Bayport this week. The public boat ramps and fishing pier will be closed during the project's 30-day duration.

The wall is being built to stabilize County Road 550 prior to the proposed dredging of the Bayport Channel.