In April of 2018, author Tom Pagliaroli covered the Garden State twin sisters – north and south – and noted in that hot spot feature, “The smaller, rhombus-figured Garden State South Reef is oftentimes an afterthought during those rare times when the neighboring 1.5-square mile Little Egg Reef residents prove tight-lipped.
True, Garden State South has been somewhat of an under-utilized “afterthought” primarily as a reef site of “last resort.” According to the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association (BHCFA), that’s primarily due to the lack of recent deployments. “There was a steady deposit of material on Little Egg and Garden State reefs starting in 1996, but there has been no additional material added to the reefs since 2005,” BHCFA notes at their website, noting how “Regular maintenance is needed and new patch reefs need to be built so that the prime fishing that we have enjoyed over the years will continue in to the future for our children.”
Ironically enough, it would be the children who would step up to the plate on behalf of Southern Ocean County anglers! Several years ago the BHCFA Junior Mates began a fundraising drive aimed at building upon those neglected LBI area reef sites, with new deployments since made to the Little Egg Reef site, and more recently Garden State South. On September 30, 2021 the Junior Mates’ efforts paid off when a new batch of reef balls rolled off the deck of a deployment vessel.
According Peter Clarke, artificial reef coordinator at the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife (Division), the latest deposit of 16 reef balls at Garden State South is the 93rd such deployment at that location, the first since 200 reef balls were placed there back in 2009. “I think this is a great grassroots program, it’s really impressive what these kids and the BHCFA has done,” Clarke said, adding “If we could have another half-dozen of these types of guys around, boy that would be something here in the state of New Jersey.”
A reef ball resembles a small igloo with holes leading into a hollow interior cavity; fish count studies show that on average, more than 19 fish can be found in or near reef ball habitat at any one time. The BHCFA goal at this point is to “re-nourish” all the LBI reef sites – including Garden State North – and this month, they hope to have one or two new truckloads of reef balls for local deployment thanks to the mates in training.
“Our Junior Mates have taken it upon their shoulders to spearhead this campaign to revive the regular and sustained building and expansion of our local artificial reefs,” BHCFA noted, explaining how the Junior Mates have beat the business bushes for funds in order to obtain matching dollars from Government and private foundations. In addition to the September reef ball deployment, BHCFA is looking at new deployments during the spring/summer of 2022.
The BHCFA Junior Mates got started with their efforts to build more reefs in 2018/2019, and by the winter of 2021 a major deployment was made at Little Egg Reef site thanks to generous donations of the local community, including a $50,000 donation from Tom Hughes and the Sea Shell Striper Derby, as well as numerous non-profits.
“The group’s (Junior Mate) original goal to raise $100,000 to begin reef replenishment was reached thanks to the efforts of the mates, local community involvement, and matching funds from the Ann E. Clark Foundation and the Sport Fishing Fund,” said BHCFA president, Capt. John Lewis. “Kids today take a beating for various reasons,” Capt. Lewis said last year of the Junior Mates after the first major deployment at Little Egg, adding “Our kids have adopted a ’can-do’ approach and worked their tails off to implement their ideas and dreams.”
Check out the BHCFA website at bhcfa.net, and for future fundraising efforts on your own or your club, go to thesportfishingfund.org. A new digital version of the NJ Artificial Reef Guide will be available sometime this year at NJFishandWildlife.com.