U.S. Gulf coast reefs may be included in offshore reserve plans

'Islands in the Stream' would create protected areas streching south to Central America

A federal project called "Islands in the Stream" would create a patchwork of protected areas stretching from Belize to Mexico around the Gulf to the Florida Keys, according to a draft proposed by NOAA. The dozen or so zones will each protect deepwater coral reefs and rock bottoms that house and feed important seafood species such as grouper, snapper and mackerel.

One of those proposed regions is the Mississippi-Alabama Pinnacles, situated in 260 to 360-foot waters south of Mobile Bay. If protected, the "Pinnacles" would be subject to federal overview charged with recommending seasonal "shutdowns" or other necessary restrictions. Current threats to the Pinnacles are overfishing, bottom-scraping commercial gear and commercial fishing anchors.

The plan is a long way from a done deal and major stakeholders in the Gulf will have the opportunities for comment and input as the process moves along.