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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
AJ's owner sinks Baby J's for artificial reef off of Destin's shores
September 30, 2011 3:11 PM

Matt Algarin
Florida Freedom News
Baby J’s and its checkered past have gone to a watery grave — a final resting place that AJ’s owner Alan Laird hopes will be a lifespring for fish.
Laird has always said one of his goals was to “give a fish a home,” and with the deployment of the AJ’s/Kerry Ricks Memorial Reef, he has done that.
“This is a positive impact to create more fisheries and to make a statement about promoting new fish habitats,” Laird said. “This is going to be one strong fish-producing reef.”
In a former life, the 75-foot, two-story vessel was a popular hangout and floating eatery. Laird leased the boat to the owners of the Baby J’s enterprise — Vic Starling and Kelly Morgan — but soon after opening, the owners found themselves locked in what would become an almost yearlong battle with City Hall.
Much of the 2009 dispute centered on the classification of the structure and the ensuing building codes. The owners maintained that Baby J’s was a “vessel,” while the city felt that the title “floating structure” was most appropriate.

As part of that classification, the city required the business to correct what it called “life safety” violations, including the lack of a sprinkler system, an exit from the second floor and a kitchen hood — renovations that Starling and Morgan claimed they could not afford. After months of legal wrangling and an attempt by the city to shut the watering hole down, the owners opted to close, saying, “you can’t keep fighting City Hall.”
Laird ultimately took possession of the Baby J’s barge and floated it to his property on Joe’s Bayou. There it sat, until recently.
To mark AJ’s 10-year milestone hosting the Destin Fishing Rodeo, the former restaurant was stripped down and dedicated to Kerry Ricks, a former deckhand and friend who passed away recently.
The reef, which has chicken coops and various other structures for grouper and amberjack, was towed out to sea earlier this week and sunk about 10 miles from Destin in the Gulf of Mexico. In order to give the reef time to bear fruit of the sea, the location is being kept secret until the kick-off of the 2012 Destin Fishing Rodeo.
As someone who is tied to the local fishing industry, Laird said the reef was a way for him to give back to the community, while sending a message to marine fisheries managers about “over-regulation and pro-creation.”
“This is big,” he said. “There needs to be a balance between regulation and procreation; all our marine fishery does is sit in Tallahassee and regulate with a pencil.”
The AJ’s/Kerry Ricks Memorial Reef was prepared for its final resting place by volunteers from the Emerald Coast Reef Association. In a statement, Candy Hansard of the ECRA wrote that due to the Panhandle’s sandy bottom, artificial reefs are necessary to build a “healthy and sustainable” fishery.
“Artificial reefs bring tens of millions of dollars into our local economy annually and every reef that is built off our coast (public and private) helps build a healthy fishery that will sustain the increasing number of people who stimulate our economy by participating in boating, fishing and diving activities,” she wrote.
With the reef now in the watery depths, Laird says it’s only a matter of time before fish start making themselves at home.
“My goal is to make sure that fishing continues here in Destin,” he said. “This reef means as much to me as anything I have ever done.”


C-Hawk 245 Pilot House
5,168 Posts
As a member of the Emerald Coast Reef Association, I got to ride the barge out to it's new home. :thumbsup: It was a slow 4 knot trip, and seemed to take forever.
The boat landed exactly where it was supposed to, we lost the buoy anchor because the barge landed on it. :yes:
We will be having more projects in the future, come join if you want to help.

Among other benefits for paid members, we put out "members only" reefs each year. It's nice to have some lightly fished private reefs.

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