Dredge rock loaded onto scow near Commodore Barry Bridge

Dredge rock like this being loaded onto a hopper scow near the Commodore Barry Bridge will be used to create New Jersey’s first artificial reef in the Delaware Bay.

Peter Clarke, DEP / provided

The state’s first artificial reef in the Delaware Bay will be centrally located for recreational fishermen from Fortescue to Cape May.

“Fishermen had been requesting one for quite some time,” said Peter Clarke, fisheries biologist and artificial reef coordinator for the Department of Environmental Protection. “We were finally able to do it.”

Construction is due to start in early December, he said.

Party boat captain Mike Rothman, of the 65-foot Bonanza II in Fortescue, said the reef will be beneficial for his business and for the bay’s recreational fishery.

“This give us more of an option,” said Rothman, who operates out of the Fortescue State Marina and is a Downe Township committeeman.

“There has been an absolute decline in the recreational fishery,” largely because of restrictions on the size and number of fish that can be caught, he said. “I definitely hope it’s just a start. I hope in the future there is more of this in the bay.”

The new reef will be built about 9 miles southwest of the mouth of the Maurice River, about 12 miles from Fortescue in Downe Township, and 6.5 miles from the Cape May Canal, Clarke said.

DEP studies have found that artificial reefs are quickly colonized by organisms such as algae, barnacles, mussels, sea stars, blue crabs and sea fans that attract smaller fish. The smaller fish then attract the larger species that fishermen seek.

The Delaware Bay reef will attract larger fish like summer and winter flounder, black drum, black sea bass, tautog, striped bass, bluefish and weakfish, Clarke said.

Delaware has created several artificial reefs on its side of the bay, Clarke said. But New Jersey is starting with one experimental reef, and will carefully monitor the age of the fish at the reef before building another.

Reefs in estuaries can attract more juvenile fish than those in the ocean, he said. The state doesn’t want juvenile fish exposed to too much fishing pressure.

The new reef will have a base of rock dynamited from a dredge site farther upriver near the Commodore Barry Bridge, said Clarke. Then concrete culverts and other material will be added on top.

“The rock is taken to the site via hopper scow, which is like a big bathtub with two sets of doors on the bottom,” said Clarke. “We open the bottom up, and the material drops out. You can get a very precise deployment.”

The rock varies from basketball size to the size of a car, he said.

The water is too shallow to use something larger, like a ship, he said. The 1.3-square-mile area has a minimum depth of 19 feet deep and a maximum of 35 feet.

Clarke said New Jersey recently applied for a new 10-year reef permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which allowed it to add the Delaware Bay site.

“Generally speaking, we are looking for an area with a featureless bottom, made of hard sand — at most small sand waves,” said Clarke. The site was also chosen for its central location to Delaware Bay fishing towns.

The DEP’s artificial reef deployment program was suspended for a time, after losing its funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fish and Wildlife felt commercial fishing interests were hampering recreational fishing on artificial reefs in state waters, which are funded by taxes on recreational fishing gear and motor boat fuel.

Fish and Wildlife began providing $119,250 last year to the reef program because the DEP had reached a compromise allowing commercial interests limited access to two reefs in state waters, and agreed to construct a new ocean reef for recreational fishing only.

The DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife currently holds permits for 15 artificial reef sites — 13 in federal waters and two in state waters.

For more information on New Jersey’s Artificial Reef Program, visit nj.gov/dep/fgw/artreef.htm.

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Contact: 609-272-7219 mpost@pressofac.com Twitter @MichelleBPost

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In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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