One of Northfield resident Jim Yost’s favorite memories of the Coast Guard’s famed ship the Tamaroa was when it towed to shore a Navy plane that ran out of fuel at sea.
“We were towing it into New York, and the admiral was so embarrassed that the Coast Guard was towing in the Navy,” said Yost, 84, who served on the Tamaroa in the 1950s.
The former World War II ship that later was featured heavily in the book and film “The Perfect Storm” is expected to be sunk off the coast of Cape May by the end of the year, according to New Jersey and Delaware officials.
It will become one of the first vessels submerged since the return of New Jersey’s artificial reef program earlier this year.
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The state program was put on hold for more than five years after the federal government suspended funding following concerns that commercial fishermen were impeding recreational anglers on the reefs, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Yost, who went on to become a tugboat captain in the Atlantic City area, isn’t against the plan to sink the boat.
“It’s good for the fishermen,” he said.
Recreational saltwater fishing is a $640 million industry in New Jersey that brings in $242 million in tax revenue and supports nearly 10,000 jobs, according to the DEP. Commercial fishing, meanwhile, is a $327 million boon to the state’s economy that supports almost 13,000 jobs, the DEP said.
Artificial reefs attract fishermen and divers because they attract wildlife, DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said.
“They allow a surface for barnacles, mussels and sea stars to attach themselves to,” Hajna said. “They, in turn, attract smaller fish that will sort of peck away at them.”
“This diversifies the habitat,” he added.
There are currently 17 artificial reefs off New Jersey, and more than half of them are in waters near Cape May and Atlantic counties.
The Tamaroa will be added to the Del-Jerseyland Inshore site, which is about equidistant from Cape May, Indian River Inlet in Delaware and Ocean City, Maryland.
Despite reports, no date has been set for the ship’s sinking, according to Michael Globetti, a spokesman for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which is the lead agency on the project.
Globetti said the agency expects the Tamaroa will be deployed by the end of the year.
The Tamaroa’s most famous rescue came in 1991, when it saved seven people during two rescue missions near Massachusetts. The events formed the basis for “The Perfect Storm,” a 1997 book by Sebastian Junger later made into a film starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.
Before being transferred to the Coast Guard, the Tamaroa served in World War II as a Navy tugboat. The ship was decommissioned in 1994 and is currently docked in Norfolk, Virginia, according to Hajna.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restored $119,250 to the artificial reef program after reaching an agreement with the state, according to the DEP. The DEP will match that funding with $39,750 and a donation from a reef-building company, the agency said.
Federal funds had been withheld because of concerns the two reefs in state waters were benefiting commercial interests, the DEP said. Money to build the reefs comes from a tax on recreational fishing gear and motor boat fuel.
Under the new agreement, commercial fishermen will continue to be able to use the two reefs in state waters — both in North Jersey. A third reef will be built in state waters exclusively for recreational anglers near the Manasquan Inlet, according to the DEP.
All the other reefs near New Jersey are more than 3 miles from shore, meaning that they are in federal waters.
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John DePersenaire, a fisheries researcher at the Recreational Fishing Alliance in New Gretna, said he doesn’t see much competition on the reefs between commercial and recreational fishermen.
“They’re designed in such a way that some are reefs you can drift over,” he added. “Some are better for anchoring.”
“It’s not like a parking lot out there,” DePersenaire added.
DePersenaire said there’s “not a lot of structure” naturally on the ocean’s floor off the coast of New Jersey. It’s “mostly sand,” which doesn’t attract a lot of fish. Once the artificial reefs are set up, recreational fishermen have a hub where they are sure to find fish.
“You will find black sea bass and tautog on there relatively quickly,” DePersenaire said.
Artificial reefs are also an attraction for divers. Andy Lynch, a manager at Atlantic Divers in Egg Harbor Township, said the sites are “kind of like a playground” for underwater explorers.
“Basically, any kind of marine life that’s down there, they’re making their home there,” he said.