Much to the displeasure of oil companies and recreational fishing advocates, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced last week that the 13 oil platforms in Southern California waters – including nine in the Santa Barbara Channel – are not essential fish habitat. Under current law, the multimillion-dollar burden of removing the massive rigs and restoring the ocean floor to its natural state falls on the oil companies once their leases expire. But oil companies contend the towering underwater pillars supporting the rigs have become “artificial” habitat for thousands of fish – including the threatened rockfish – and therefore should be capped off and left behind once the rig is abandoned. Despite strong environmental opposition, the Fisheries Service has not ruled out the “rigs to reef” proposal.

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