If you build it, they will come! The line that worked for Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams is also “spot on” when it comes to building artificial reefs that in turn attract fish like tautog and black sea bass.
Two years after beginning efforts to replenish Little Egg Reef, the captains and mates of the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association (BHCFA) saw their efforts pay off on Thursday, January 14 with their own debris field of dreams!
BHCFA president and captain of Insatiable Sportfishing John Lewis oversaw three vessels sunk on the reef including a 140-foot barge, a tugboat, and a push boat. The boats were brought from Norfolk, VA where they had been cleaned and prepped for deployment.
“We raised money and got matching funds to buy old derelict vessels to sink on artificial reefs,” Capt. Lewis said, explaining how the deployment materials will help provide habitat for marine creatures. “It builds a food chain to repopulate the other wise barren sea floor,” he added.
New Jersey’s artificial reef program was started in 1984 in an effort to create habitat for various species of fish. However, over time as reef materials degrade, so does the actual fishing on these sites. The Little Egg Reef Site has not had a materials deployment in 16 years, which didn’t sit well with the next generation of local captains.
As teenagers involved in the BHCFA Junior Mates program experienced first-hand the situation at Little Egg Reef site with lessening reef materials also resulting in diminished returns on fishing trips, they began a grass roots campaign which snowballed into an intensive BHCFA effort with support from local businesses on Long Beach Island.
According to BHCFA, the group’s original goal to raise $100,000 for reef replenishment work was reached thanks to the efforts of the Junior Mates and local business community – including a $50,000 donation from Tom Hughes at the Sea Shell Hotel – as well as matching funds from the Ann E. Clark Foundation and The Sportfishing Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to artificial reef building. There were three vessels towed in from Norfolk, VA after cleaning and preparation atop a 140-foot barge – to the stern was a ranger tug which destined for Manasquan Reef later in the afternoon, along with a small tug and push boat which together with the barge were sunk at Little Egg.
As the barge was sinking, New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife staff in their Parker out of Nacote Creek used pumps to put water into the hold to finally sink that big piece of structure. The other two pieces were sunk soon after in the same area at approximately 39° 28.363 N / 74° 11.125 W.
According to Capt. Lewis, the average reef site off the Jersey Coast has 600,000 cubic yards of material. Comparatively speaking, prior to Thursday’s deployment the Little Egg Reef site had only 9,000 cubic yards of reef materials.
As the materials were settling in at Little Egg, the 65-foot Ranger tug boat was towed north to Manasquan Reef where it was deployed in honor of the late John Geiges, a long-time member of the Manasquan River Marlin and Tuna Club.