Construction Wraps on Improved Gulf Shores Hatchery

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf of Mexico and destroyed numerous coastal communities.

Among the destruction was the Claude Peteet Mariculture Center (CPMC), a Marine Resources Division facility in Gulf Shores. This laboratory and hatchery was responsible for spawning, rearing and researching numerous species of Gulf Coast marine life.

Over a five-year period, plans were made for an upgrade to the facility, which was first built in 1973. Construction began in December of 2011, and the upgraded facility is now in the final stages on completion.

“The state of Alabama lost the biggest part of the hatchery as a result of the storm,” said Ralph Hode, Emergency Disaster Program coordinator of the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC). “There was a need to restore and rebuild it. The state of Alabama identified that as a need as part of their recovery effort, and there were funds available.”

Funding for this project came primarily from federal sources like the GSMFC and the Coastal Impact Assistance Program. The rebuilding effort cost $9.56 million total.

The construction of the upgraded facility, which includes a 23,000-square-foot laboratory and hatchery facility and an 8,000-square-foot administration building, was a much-needed resource for Alabama Gulf Seafood and similar organizations.

Now that construction is wrapping up, the new facility is preparing to resume operations—on a much larger scale.

“The new laboratory is three to four times the size of the existing laboratory,” said Chris Denson, marine biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Marine Resources Division. “The increase in size alone should allow us the ability to produce fish at a much larger volume than in the past.”

Raising popular species of Gulf fish is the biggest objective of the upgraded facility. Red Snapper, Red Drum, Florida Pompano, Spotted Seatrout and numerous other species—specifically any fish that is in peril and needing to be restocked in the wild—are spawned and reared at the facility.

The CPMC was, in fact, the first facility to spawn and rear Red Snapper to a full-grown size, beginning in the 1990s.

The upgrades will make the rearing process more efficient than ever before. According to Denson, the rearing tanks will now be in climate-controlled rooms, which provides the opportunity to grow these fish year-round as opposed to the previous limited schedule of late spring through early fall.

Additional improvements to the facility include energy-efficient LED lighting and skylight windows in algae and plankton production areas as well as special concrete mixes with water-repellant additives to prevent corrosion caused by salt water.

Another important component of the hatchery is its educational uses. While the facility will not be open to the public (due to contamination, noise level and public safety concerns, according to Denson), prearranged guided tours will be available. For students, fishing events at the educational fishing pond will also take place.

Collaborative research projects will also be introduced down the road with state universities. This summer, Auburn University students will be allowed to use the facility for research on Florida Pompano and Gulf Shrimp. Partnerships with the University of South Alabama have also taken place in the past.

While those in the Alabama Gulf Seafood industry and the Marine Resources Division will reap the benefits of this facility with hundreds of new jobs, the economic impact will be felt throughout the state.

“Benefits will be exponential beginning with the fishermen, seafood dealers/processors, and bait and tackle suppliers through all avenues of packaging, transportation and marketing,” said Denson. “Alabama’s Gulf Coast tourism industry as a whole will benefit from Alabama’s marine resources through conservation efforts.”

The growth and prosperity of the Alabama Gulf Seafood industry depend on a large supply of premium catches. And with the CPMC operating more efficiently—and all throughout the year—the future of Alabama Gulf Seafood is even brighter.

“It’s a well-respected facility,” said Hode. “They’ve done some really great work. We really needed to see it get back on line and functioning again.”