Des Allemands preservationist leaves lasting legacy

Craig Matherne remembered his father’s early days born on a houseboat in Bayou Des Allemands in 1930, which fueled his intense devotion to preserving a dearly loved lifestyle for generations to come.

The Creedence Clearwater Revival song, ‘Born on the Bayou,’ applies to him,” Craig said. “As a resident of Des Allemands, he literally was on the bayou. It was a floating colony of Cajuns traveling the water of the area and depending on need.”

Matherne said his father, Vincent Matherne, knew the trying times of the Great Depression and pre-World War II years yet he still found a way to get his feet on dry land.He got settled on the north side of the railroad tracks or what he said they called “up the bayou these days” on land in Des Allemands, according to Craig.

And, from there, set out on a life dedicated to saving the world of his childhood. He was recognized posthumously for that work on Oct. 18.

Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) of Louisiana, Shell Oil, Building Conservation Trust (CCA’s National Habitat Program) and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), began construction on a new artificial reef, located in the St. John Parish portion of Lake Pontchartrain.

In a ceremony at Frenier Landing, the reef was dedicated as the “Vincent Matherne Reef” in his honor as a founding member of CCA’s River Parishes Chapter and a life-long outdoorsman and conservation leader. The project was conceived by the River Parishes CCA Chapter in 2015, and chapter volunteers have worked since then with parish and state officials to see their reef proposal come to fruition.Matherne’s family was on hand for the dedication, including his son, Craig.

“My dad loved the bayous and the bays … the open waters … that he grew up on and never really strayed far from his routes of being born on the bayou,” Craig said.

It was in the 1980s when his father realized fish were being consumed at an alarming rate, such as red fish, and depleting the system. Conservation groups were formed and came together to preserve a substantial population of speckled trout and red fish so they would be here for the next generation.

“This is a true legacy for my dad, who loved this coast, loved to fish, and loved CCA and everything it stands for,” said Matherne. “On behalf of my mom and the entire Matherne family, thank you to CCA and the project partners who made this happen.”

The new reef is located in the southwestern-most portion of Lake Pontchartrain close to where I-10 and I-55 merge. It is being constructed of approximately 4,000 tons of limestone in the 10-acre reef site. Its proximity to Frenier Landing makes it easily accessible to anglers using a variety of vessels.

“The site we selected near the landing was actually the remnant of an old shell pad, so there was a great base there already,” said LDWF Biologist Ashley Ferguson. “From there, we worked closely with CCA and the other partners to design the layout of the new material in a way that should maximize the effectiveness and productivity of the reef.”

CCA River Parishes’ Habitat Chairman Alan Dupont says the project should create some great new opportunities for anglers who like to fish the area.

“People catch a lot of fish in this end of Lake Pontchartrain, but we were in desperate need of more habitat to improve fishing,” Dupont said. “Fish congregate around structure, and there simply isn’t a lot of bottom structure here. The Vincent Matherne Reef will provide new structure that will become productive habitat for fish, and create a new fishing spot for anglers.”

This Vincent Matherne Reef is the sixth reef of its kind built by CCA in Lake Pontchartrain in recent years.  The first two Lake Pontchartrain reefs, the South Shore Reef and the Kim and Dudley Vandenborre reefs, were constructed using recycled materials from the I-10 Twin Spans damaged in Hurricane Katrina. Those were built in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Overall, this is the 21st reef project completed by CCA Louisiana in recent years. All past CCA projects have proven to provide exceptional fish habitat, and have become popular amongst recreational anglers.

Funding for the project was provided through CCA’s Building Conservation Trust, Shell, LDWF‘s Artificial Reef Development Fund, as well as in-kind donations and services from Pontchartrain Materials. Continued support of CCA’s habitat program is provided by the Paul Candies Family.

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