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Adorned with a large walnut cross in remembrance of John Grady, III, a 68-foot trawler is deployed at Axel Carlson reef in New Jersey on September 21, 2016.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  September 22, 2016
The Austin, a 68-foot decommissioned commercial trawler is pumped with water by members of the NJDEP artificial reef team to facilitate its sinking at Axel Carlson Reef outside of Manasquan Inlet on September 21, 2016. Photo by Jim Hutchinson, Jr.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) artificial reef program deployed another vessel last week to enhance recreational fishing opportunities and enhance ocean habitat for fish, with another expected this week.

The program, back in gear following restoration of federal funding towards the Shark River and Axel Carlson reef sites in state waters, sank the 68-foot trawler Austin on September 21 as part of the Axel Carlson Reef, 4.4 nautical miles southeast of Manasquan Inlet.

“For more than 30 years, New Jersey has had a robust program of creating artificial reefs that enhance offshore habitats for fish and draw in thousands of anglers and sport divers,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, who was on-hand for the sinking of the Austin. “These latest additions continue that tradition and firmly establish the program as being back in business.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided $119,250 towards the artificial reef program after NJDEP was able to reach a compromise that allows commercial interests to have continued access to portions of the two reefs within state waters and calls for the construction of a new reef for recreational fishing, also in state waters (inside of 3 miles).

At the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council's October 5 meeting at the Stockton Seaview Hotel at 401 South New York Road in Galloway, NJ, the council’s monitoring team will provide a report at 1 p.m. on New Jersey’s request for Special Management Zone (SMZ) Consideration for the other artificial reef sites located in federal waters outside of 3 miles. Final approval of SMZ status, while not expected for at least another 6 months, would also address fixed gear at the state's 13 other artificial reef sites.

The fourth additional deployment to New Jersey's artificial reef program this year, the Austin, a 68-foot decommissioned trawler, was to have been followed on Friday by the 115-foot surf clam vessel, Lisa Kim at Wildwood Reef approximately 8.3 miles northeast of Cape May Inlet. Because of rough seas, the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife postponed that deployment until later this week. The vessels are among as many as 10 total the state plans to have deployed by the end of fall.

Built in 1956 in Tampa, Florida the Austin was originally used as a shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico - Bill Ford purchased her in 1966 and brought her to Point Pleasant where she was converted to a trawler fishing New Jersey waters until 2013. She is the sister ship of the McGinty which already lies on the Axel Carlson Reef.

The Austin was deployed in memory of John Grady III who passed in 2007 - John worked as a mate on party boats and owned several fishing boats. The site will be known as the "Shady Reef." Glenn Egerter, the son of Capt. Willie Egerter of the party boat Dauntless in Point Pleasant, along with Kevin Lovgren constructed a massive cross measuring 12 by 7-1/2 feet made of black walnut timbers which has affixed to the Austin. The cross was covered with hand carved scrolls that are heartfelt remembrances of a good friend and avid fisherman.

Funding of the deployment was made by the Grady family and the Greater Point Pleasant Charter Boat Association through donations to the Ocean Reef Foundation of New Jersey.

After a hiatus of nearly five years, three vessels were deployed over the summer. The sinking of these vessels was made possible by an agreement reached by the Christie Administration regarding access to reefs by recreational and commercial fishing interests that resulted in restored federal funding for the artificial reef program. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had suspended funding due to concerns that commercial fishing was intruding on and hampering recreational fishing on artificial reefs in state waters. The compromise was reached in 2013, and codified in rule changes that were adopted by the DEP in November 2015.

Among the vessels expected to be deployed before the end of the year is the former U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tamaroa immortalized in the book The Perfect Storm and the movie by the same name for its rescue role during a brutal nor’easter in 1991. Originally a U.S. Navy fleet tug, the Tamaroa is also the last surviving vessel from the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima (details in the October edition of the New Jersey, Delaware Bay edition of The Fisherman Magazine).

Old vessels and other materials used in artificial reefs provide surfaces for organisms such as algae, barnacles, mussels, sea stars, and sea fans to grow on. This colonization occurs in as little as two weeks. These organisms attract smaller fish which, in turn, attract black sea bass, tautog, summer flounder, scup, lobster and other sought-after species.

In a press conference prior to last Wednesday’s deployment at Axel Carlson, NJDEP Commissioner Martin referred to recreational fishing in New Jersey as a $2 billion industry overall that supports nearly 10,000 jobs.