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The third of eleven reef deployments off the Jersey Coast in 2016 is the New York Harbor Charlie renamed in honor of Jack Murray of the Manasquan River Marlin and Tuna Club.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  August 10, 2016
The New York Harbor Charlie is renamed in honor of the late Jack Murray of the Manasquan River Marlin and Tuna Club before it is laid to rest at Axel Carlson Reef on August 9, 2016.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) artificial reef deployment program is back on course as a result of restoration of federal funding made possible by a compromise the Christie Administration reached between recreational anglers and commercial fishermen over access to the popular reefs.

After two deployments at the Ocean City Reef and Atlantic City Reef in June, another deployment took place on August 9 at the Axel Carlson Reef, just southeast of Manasquan Inlet, with the sinking of the 65-foot crew boat New York Harbor Charlie.

The Manasquan River Marlin and Tuna Club (MRMTC) and the Ann E. Clark Foundation/Sportfishing Fund were key partners in the deployment of the New York Harbor Charlie. The new structure is located at N40 03.788' / W073 59.380' and has been confirmed through underwater sidescan imaging to be sitting upright on her keel after deployment.

The New York Harbor Charlie deployment was made in honor and memory of Jack Murray, a key member of the MRMTC from 1967 until his passing in 2013. He served as President for three years, Vice President for eight years and as trustee. Murray was a champion of marine conservation and anglers rights, serving as member of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) and the National Coalition for Marine Conservation. He also was a director for the United States Atlantic Tuna Tournament and its president in 1977. Murray still holds the MRMTC club record for yellowfin with a 286-pounder caught in 1981.

By the end of this fall, NJDEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife plans to sink as many as 10 vessels to become part of the its network of artificial reefs. The largest planned vessel deployment will be the former U.S. Coast Guard vessel TAMAROA, famed for the heroic rescue during the Halloween storm of 1991 immortalized in The Perfect Storm. Planned deployments range from Shark River reef to the Del-Jersey-land reef 26 miles south of Cape May. The TAMAROA project is a joint effort including the State of Delaware, State of New Jersey and www.thesportfishingfund.org

“Artificial reefs create important habitat for many types of marine life, and attract fish that are popular with recreational anglers,” said NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “Our artificial reefs are an important part of the economy of the Jersey Shore because they are so popular with anglers as well as sport divers. We are grateful to all our partners in the recreational and commercial fishing industries for working with us to get this program back on track.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is providing $119,250 to the artificial reef program because the NJDEP was able to reach a compromise that allows commercial interests to have continued access to portions of two reefs in state waters and calls for the construction of a new reef for recreational fishing, also in state waters. State waters extend three miles from the shoreline.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had suspended the funding due to concerns that commercial fishing was intruding on and hampering recreational fishing on artificial reefs in state waters, which are funded by excise taxes on recreational fishing gear and motor boat fuel. The compromise was reached in 2013, and codified in rule changes adopted by the NJDEP in November 2015.

Under the new rule, commercial fishing operations are permitted to continue using portions of two existing reefs in state waters off Sandy Hook and Manasquan. State waters extending to three miles offshore, while anglers will continue to have access to all portions of these reefs.

The NJDEP is matching the federal money for the program with $39,750 from state appropriations and a donation from a firm that creates concrete reef structures.

As part of its efforts this year, NJDEP’s artificial reef program will perform an archeological survey on the new reef called for under the compromise, which will be developed off Manasquan Inlet. The program also will be conducting an archeological survey for construction of an additional reef in Delaware Bay, which the Division of Fish and Wildlife has been planning for years.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife currently holds permits for 15 artificial reef sites – 13 in federal waters and two in state waters. The reefs, encompassing a total of 25 square miles of ocean floor, are constructed from a variety of materials, such as rocks, concrete and steel, even old ships and barges. These materials provide surfaces for a wide diversity of marine organisms to grow, ultimately providing food and habitat for many species of fish and shellfish. The reefs are placed to be within easy reach by boat of 12 inlets.

DEP studies have shown that these materials are colonized quickly with organisms such as algae, barnacles, mussels, sea stars, blue crabs, and sea fans that attract smaller fish which, in turn, attract black sea bass, tautog, summer flounder, scup, lobster and other sought-after species.

“The artificial reef program has a long and proven track record of enhancing ecological diversity and productivity,” said Brandon Muffley, Administrator of the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Marine Fisheries Administration. “Our studies have shown that colonization begins in as little as a couple weeks.”

As part of a $250,000 broader assessment of marine resources currently under way, the DEP and Rutgers University will be evaluating which artificial reef structure materials attract the most fish.

Artificial reefs are extremely popular with anglers and divers, contributing to the state’s economy through the creation of tourism opportunities and jobs. New Jersey’s commercial fishing industry ranks 7th in the nation in retail sales, and supports $327 million in salaries and wages and nearly 13,000 jobs. According to the NJDEP, recreational saltwater fishing brings in more than $640 million in retail sales and is directly responsible for nearly 10,000 jobs and more than $242 million in tax revenues, including $165 million in state and local taxes.

Learn more about New Jersey's artificial reef program at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection website.