Artificial reefs have been used for centuries to create habitat for fish and opportunities for fishing. Placing durable objects and materials on a largely flat ocean or bay bottom provides a home for algae, bivalves, crustaceans and small fish. Larger fish come to feed on them and concentrate where fishermen have a better chance of catching them.
Coastal states and the federal government have created hundreds of artificial reefs to enhance fishing opportunities and boost the stocks of species that prefer structured habitats. New Jersey has taken a cautious approach, in part out of concern for potential pollution from some reef-building objects such as old subway cars, and created just three reefs in its ocean waters. A little farther out in federal waters off the state, the U.S. has provided 13 reefs.
New Jersey artificial reefs were delayed further when U.S. Fish and Wildlife cut off funding for them because the state was allowing too much commercial fishing on reefs paid for with taxes on fishing gear and boat fuel. After New Jersey agreed to create its third reef just for recreational fishermen, Fish and Wildlife restored the funding last year.
Now, the state is finally giving recreational fishermen something they’ve long sought: an artificial reef in Delaware Bay. This month, the Department of Environmental Protection is starting construction of an experimental reef within easy reach of ports from Cape May to Fortescue in Cumberland County.
New Jersey’s first artificial reef in the bay will have a base of quarried rock, topped with concrete construction forms and other durable debris. It is expected to draw flounder, sea bass, drum, striped bass and weakfish.
While New Jersey makes its first carefully controlled improvement to bay fishing waters, Delaware continues more than two decades of aggressive reef building that has already provided its fishermen with eight reefs in its namesake bay.
Delaware says its goal is to add “new reef structure as quickly as the artificial reef program can get its collective claws around suitable material.” It boasts that it has taken advantage of the hesitancy of states such as New Jersey to accept and place former subway cars.
Since fish are drawn to artificial reefs, presumably they have been drawn from the New Jersey side of the bay to the many reefs on the Delaware side.
New Jersey wants to see how its first bay reef performs before making a plan to create another. In particular it wants to see how many juvenile fish it attracts, which would make them vulnerable to fishing.
We’re glad the state is finally creating a bay reef for recreational fishing. Caution about the performance of such reefs is OK, too.
But with Delaware already bent on maximizing reefs convenient to its shore, we hope New Jersey isn’t planning to shoulder all of the conservation burden to the disadvantage of its anglers.