Guest Editor’s Log: Keep Our Artificial Reefs Alive - The Fisherman

Guest Editor’s Log: Keep Our Artificial Reefs Alive

The ocean floor off New Jersey is largely characterized by sloping sand with some muddy and clay bottoms in the depressions and sloughs in between gradually sloping sandy shelf waters. . A lot of the nearshore structural bottom has been destroyed by fishing trawls, dredges, sand mining, storms, disease, and other processes. Along with the loss of this structure was the loss of the ecosystems that thrived there and supported our inshore fisheries.

Our oceans cry out for structure. Every suitable solid structure that ends up on the ocean floor will create its own ecosystem, first inhabited by slime like organisms (bryozoans), then quickly thereafter by corals, barnacles, sponges, mussels, and other encrusting organisms. Many species, of crabs, worms, snails, and other creatures soon thereafter call these structures home. Many baitfish species, sea bass, and tog use this structure for spawning. Fluke and other migratory fish use these structures for food procurement and predator protection.

Reef building efforts off of New Jersey actually began in 1935 by private groups, clubs and charter captains. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took over in 1984 and now holds all the permits (obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers) off of New Jersey and is the sole building entity. The artificial reef program began at that time with the express goal to be “ecosystem habitat enhancement.”

Coordination of the artificial reef (AR) program is the responsibility of the DEP’s Fish and Wildlife division. Peter Clarke is the current head of the AR program which currently manages 17 artificial reef sites.  The New Jersey Fish and Wildlife service receives federal money (Wallop-Breaux) from federal excise taxes on sportfishing equipment, motorboat fuel sales, and import duties on fishing related items. This money is largely used up on fish and wildlife personnel salaries and mandatory required surveys. In the end there is no money left to acquire reef material to rebuild our reefs!

Our artificial reefs are the main source of fishing activity in our state. Well over half the fish caught by New Jersey anglers come from our artificial reefs. The last survey done in the year 2000, showed 90% of private boat trips were to the reefs as well as 47% of the party boat trips, and most likely surpasses that now. Our artificial reef structure greatly enhances the ability of the ocean floor to generate a whole ecosystem of new life. Studies have shown artificial reef material increases the amount compared to sandy bottom anywhere from 24 to 2,195 times, based on the structure studied.

Unfortunately, over time the structure on our ocean floor will gradually disappear.  Structure is lost due to subsidence (structure sinking into the sand), corrosion, scouring, abrasion, boring organisms, storm surge, chemical replacement, electrolysis, and sand blasting. For this reason if we do not continually deploy new structures on our reefs, our generation and future generations will lose the benefits of the current patch reefs that have been previously created.

In 1988 The Sportfishing Fund was established and is dedicated to funding artificial reef projects. This includes matching grants, fund raising, and club partnerships. All projects The Sportfishing Fund (a 501c3 charitable organization) is able to accomplish is through private donations from individuals, clubs, tournaments, corporations, and foundations. The organization is run by Brian Nunes-Vais. Donations can be made by mail to The Sportfishing Fund. P.O. Box 175. Morris Plains, NJ 07950, or by going directly to www.thesportfishingfund.org.

We have also formed a Facebook group called South Jersey Artificial Reef Association to raise awareness of the need for donations to support artificial reef rebuilding projects. Visit our page for some interesting fishing information, funding opportunities, deployment projects, and more.

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