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The NJDEP has secured a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to proceed with construction of two new reefs for recreational fishing, one off Manasquan and the other a new Delaware Bay reefsite.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  April 30, 2017
South Jersey anglers who fish the Delaware Bay got some good news in April when it was announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit to proceed with construction of a new reef 9 miles from the mouth of the Maurice River.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) artificial reef program has secured a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to proceed with construction of two new reefs for recreational fishing according to Commissioner Bob Martin.

A reef to be built off Ocean County’s Manasquan Inlet is part of a compromise the Christie Administration reached between recreational anglers and commercial fishermen over reef access, the second is a previously planned reef to be developed in Delaware Bay to expand fishing opportunities in that region.

“We are very excited to move forward with this expansion of the state’s network of artificial reefs, which create important habitat for many types of marine life,” Commissioner Martin said. “By enhancing recreational fishing and diving opportunities, these reefs help boost the state’s tourism economy. We are particularly pleased with the opportunity to develop Delaware Bay’s first reef site, which will help bolster tourism in that region.”

The Manasquan Inlet Reef site is located 1.7 nautical miles southeast of the inlet, which is just north of Ocean County’s Point Pleasant Beach. When fully developed, it will occupy nearly one square mile of sea floor in water from 67 feet to 74 feet deep.

The Delaware Bay Reef site is located 9.2 nautical miles from the mouth of Cumberland County’s Maurice River and will occupy a little more than a square mile of bay floor, at depths ranging from 23 feet to 35 feet.

The Army Corps permit also reauthorized continued operation and development of 15 artificial reef sites – 13 in federal waters and two in state waters.

According to the NJDEP, recreational fishing generates $1.5 billion in economic benefits in New Jersey each year, and directly employs some 20,000 people. The artificial reefs are constructed from a variety of materials, such as rocks, concrete, steel, old ships and barges, with materials providing surfaces for a wide diversity of marine organisms to grow and ultimately providing food and habitat for many species of fish and shellfish.

NJDEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife resumed deployments of old vessels and other materials last year following a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore funding for the program; that decision followed a successful compromise brokered by the Christie administration to allow commercial interests to have continued access to portions of two reefs in state waters, removing gear conflicts over the vast majority of Sandy Hook and Axel Carlson reef sites, while also calling for construction of a new reef for recreational fishing in state waters.

The Army Corps permit allows NJDEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife to develop the two new reefs over the next 10 years as materials suitable for deployment become available.

NJDEP 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.

While the U.S. Army Corps decision to allow artificial reef expansion off the Jersey Coast is good news for recreational fishermen, environmental activists who have continually picked away at fishermen’s rights over the years were quick to criticize the Christie administration’s efforts.

“These reefs are more about giving away our oceans to fisherman, which could attract more fish and will lead to more fishing,” said Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club. Tittel said he has concerns that artificial reefs will “attract fish to them, allowing them to be easily caught,” ultimately resulting in what he called “overfishing and the depletion of our oceans.”

Scientifically speaking, NJDEP has been working with researchers from Rutgers University in an ongoing study looking at the seasonal and spatial changes in reef community composition and relative abundance of structure-associated species. The survey focuses on several species of great recreational and commercial importance, including black sea bass, tautog, and lobster.

NJDEP said results from the project will be valuable for improving the ecological understanding of New Jersey's artificial reefs, which will be useful for consideration in the development of fishery management plans and informing ongoing projects as part of the artificial reef program.

Get more information on New Jersey’s Artificial Reef Program online.

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