Interview with Foster Creppel Part 2: Common Ground

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Foster Creppel - Proprietor of Woodland Plantation (Plaquemines Parish)

Foster Creppel – Proprietor of Woodland Plantation (Plaquemines Parish)

In Part 1, Woodland Plantation proprietor Foster Creppel described how creating freshwater swamps could restore the delta. Here Creppel explains how a highly successful aquaculture project in Spain could be a model.

BRUNO PRAGER (Publisher): I’d like to ask a question here.

FOSTER CREPPEL: Sure, go ahead.

BRUNO: So, those (freshwater swamps) would obviously be located where there are smaller diversions?

FOSTER: Right.

BRUNO: So you’re not proposing that everything along the levee be a freshwater swamp, there’d be some…

FOSTER: No.

BRUNO: There’d be breaks, and it would just be mimicking as much as possible the past ecology. So it’d be adding diversity back, filtering the water, and in other areas there’d be salt water right back up to the levee…

FOSTER: That’s correct. Although we’d prefer not having saltwater reach the river in many places. Unless there was a hurricane or a very high tide, saltwater rarely reached the river 100 years ago.

BRUNO: Right.

FOSTER: When the delta was healthy, and there weren’t any man made levees, the river would spread out and it’s distributaries carried freshwater and sediment out into the delta. Bayou Teche, Atchafalaya, Terrebonne, Lafourche, Barataria, Grand Cheniere, etc., were all distributaries that built South Louisiana’s wetlands.

BRUNO: But recognizing that we’ll never get back to where we were…

FOSTER: That’s correct. If your readers could take a few minutes, check out the TED talk, “How I Fell in Love with a Fish” by Dan Barber… or just look up “Veta La Palma.” It’s an idea of how we might restore our wetlands and build sustainable fish farms at the same time.

Veta La Palma, a fish farm in the south of Spain, is a place Randy Fertel, son of Ruth Fertel, (Ruth’s Chris) introduced me to a few years ago and I believe it has tremendous potential in Louisiana. It’s been developed on a small delta along the lower Guadalquivir River’s floodplain, 28,000 acres—which is not that big compared to our

delta but it’s still a significant piece of property. Many years ago the property was leveed and drained, to raise cattle and horses… it was an ecological disaster, it did a lot of damage to the flora and fauna, and it didn’t work very well as far as raising cattle and horses.
I think you’ve read about it, watched the videos, you understand it. So this environmentally conscious company in Spain – I believe it was a European food company – decided to buy the 28,000 acres in 1982 and reintroduce the fresh and saltwater to the delta and to this estuary and created a fish farm and a bird sanctuary. The river is dirty and contaminated, much like most rivers are worldwide. They take water from the Quadalquivir River and from the Atlantic and filter it through the farm. The rice along with other native plants thrives in the river water and fish grow in the salt water areas of the farm. They essentially rebuilt a natural delta and let everything that grows there naturally, grow. They farm rice, crawfish, eel, catfish, shrimp and sea bass. They don’t feed their fish nor do they keep the predators out. It is a natural farm and is amazingly productive and beautiful. Veta la Palma’s goal is “integrating business management with nature conservation,” and it has been a huge success.

Now, they do manage the water with pumps, earthen ridges, tides and the river flow. It’s Europe’s largest bird sanctuary, 600,000 migratory birds visit the farm every year 250 species. They’re also harvesting 1,500 tons of fish per year. Tourists visit from all over to see this amazing farm, and they have said it is “the largest driver of the local economy generating jobs and wealth.”

And so they’ve rebuilt a natural system and they harvest it just like we would harvest a natural system here. That’s what I would love to see in Plaquemines Parish. It would be a tremendous project and can work. It would put our engineers, surveyors, biologists, farmers, earth movers, commercial fisherman and perhaps a seafood processing plant to work. We would grow rice and crawfish near the river, cypress swamps and fresh water habitats for ducks, mink, and gators. Then we would raise crabs and catfish in the brackish water and redfish and oysters on the outside nearest the gulf.

BRUNO: Minks?

FOSTER: Yes, mink, otter and muskrat…So we’d have– that’s all natural, in the system, those are all parts of the system that we’ve gotten away from, and we can harvest all that, harvest the rice and crawfish, harvest the snapping turtles, alligators, mink and frogs. And then, harvest the crabs, and then, harvest the redfish. And on the outside, when that water flows out of it – this is one of the most important parts—when that water flows out of Veta la Palma, at the southern end, it’s clean. Because it’s been filtered naturally. That’s what a delta is supposed to do; deltas are supposed to filter that fresh water that flows out of the river, and when it gets to the ocean, it’s clean. There are certain plants that need and love the nutrients from that river—not saltwater plants because that’s not going to work so well.

So if we could model a project after Veta la Palma, and build two or three of them on each side of the river, we’d put people to work, we would still harvest everything that’s here, and we could restore our wetlands.

When we think about restoring our delta, we really have to think short-term is the present—30 years. Medium range is 30 to 100. And long- range is 100 years out. The Mississippi delta is a very large place but very vulnerable. It’s a fragile balance between fresh and salt water, organic and mineral sediment, plant life and decay, river stages and tides and father time, lot’s of time. Building a delta is not child’s play. And we can’t do it in a short amount of time. That’s something we have to remember. It’s going to take a long time, and it’s going to take patience, it’s going to take commitment and it’s going to take sacrifice. And it’s going to take limiting what we do, it’s going to take limiting how much oil and gas we extract, it’s going to take limiting how much we can trawl out there, how much we can harvest the oysters. We have to have limits on these things. I mean, I love oysters, shrimp and crab, and I need oil and gas just as much as anybody else. But I also realize that we have to limit it. If we are going to restore our wetlands, we’re going to have to start harvesting in a sustainable manner.

BRUNO: Okay. The unique thing from our conversation has been more the model based off of what worked in Spain. Could you just be a little more specific about the elements of that?

FOSTER: Yes, there are ridges, ponds, berms, bottomland hardwood forests and dry areas. That’s what I’m telling you, a farm like this is going to require survey companies, engineering companies, biologists, scientists… it’s going to take Wildlife and Fisheries, it’s going to take people to plant them and harvest them. There’s going to be a lot to do, it’s going to take people who are rice farmers, people who are in commercial seafood, people who harvest crabs, who harvest redfish—and on the outside, we want to help the environment for the oysters. That’s what I envision here, a healthy system, similar to its natural state, but man-made and manipulated, but all natural. We don’t feed the fish, so there’s no conversion; we let all the predators live, that’s what creates a healthy system. Veta la Palma in the south of Spain, which we want to model this farm after, is a success. No, it’s not going to work exactly the same way here because our biodiversity is different from theirs, but it will work here as well. And we’d be foolish not to try.

BRUNO: Any idea on CFS (cubic feet per second)?

FOSTER: No. Probably not a lot. Maybe 3,000 for a big farm, and not all the time.

BRUNO: For a big farm?

FOSTER: Perhaps a 30,000-acre farm. Biologists
and engineers will determine that.

BRUNO: How many would you foresee being along, ideally, for it to be built…?

FOSTER: I’d like to see several huge farms along the river on both sides. I believe these could coexist with oil and gas industry and the maritime industry. I feel this could benefit oyster fishing, recreational and commercial fishing. We’re not trying to do away with these, we’re trying to coexist, and we’re trying to build this so we can still be here in 50 years, 100 years and 200 years.

One of the things that I have always said is, you know, we will need to create a coalition and we’ve got to get together with all of the groups who are interested in saving our vanishing wetlands. We’ve got to get together with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the state master plan, etc. – and we need to bring people together because there is a common ground. The common ground is, we all want to be able to catch fish. We all want jobs. We all want our children and our children’s children to be able to catch fish, to eat oysters, to eat shrimp, to eat crawfish, to see the birds and this natural environment that we have taken for granted– that is our common ground: we all want our descendants to be able to enjoy this beautiful delta that we’ve enjoyed. There’s the common ground… So how do we make that happen? That’s what’s going to be tough, that’s where we have an open dialogue.

BRUNO: How does commercial interest and oil – I know you say “coexist”—obviously everybody’s going to take a little sacrifice here, but how big of a sacrifice for those guys?

FOSTER: Oil and gas?

BRUNO: Yeah.

FOSTER: Well, oil and gas…I don’t think it’s going to take a big sacrifice for oil and gas, but they’re going to have to help us backfill canals, that’s one of the most important parts of restoring our wetlands. I mean, I see some big projects out there where we’re building land here, we’re building land here, and we’re building land here—but we still have a canal right through the middle of it, which is allowing that saltwater to rush in and rush out. We need to stop that. We need to stop those canals. If we’re going to build a bunch of land here, then we have to close those canals so that saltwater can’t rush in and out.

BRUNO: And then, the oystermen and the guides who target trout—it seems to me that in a perfect world…these projects are up and down the delta, but you’re also still keeping the launches, the accessibility to trout and redfish would be there…It would be a mix of what we have now with projects like this built up and down the river. The reality is money; you couldn’t build…I guess the question is, how many, what would be the cost of one of these farms?

FOSTER: Oh, I don’t know.

BRUNO: Okay…

FOSTER: I know they’d cost a lot of money.

BRUNO: Yeah. Well then, if BP money is not enough, then…

FOSTER: It might be enough.

BRUNO: But –

FOSTER: To successfully build these farms we will have to have local, state and federal support.

We will also need partners perhaps from the oil and gas industry or a large food company. I think it would be a win/win situation if the oil and gas companies would join an effort like this and help us build one of these farms. That we have come to the point when small communities are suing the oil and gas companies because of wetlands loss and who is responsible, it’s very discouraging. We have coexisted here for as long as we have been harvesting oil and gas, we’ve been partners and we’ve depended on each other. Let’s do something moving forward that is mutually beneficial, this could be it.

BRUNO: If this could be actually started here, and the one in Spain is pretty unique, then there is the possibility that this project might get worldwide attention and drive further interest from abroad in saving the coast.

FOSTER: Veta La Palma is getting worldwide attention and believe me, this one would be a much bigger show. A close friend recently told me industry built this parish; I said no, the river built this parish and all of its diversity and natural resources. Industry has harvested and benefitted from it but did not build it.

A project like this would safeguard nature and provide sustainable development for future generations and after all, isn’t that where we can all find common ground?
[Stay tuned for a follow up next month to this intriguing “Voices of the Coast.” Visit CoastalAnglerNOLA.com for links and content referenced in these discussions.]

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