Fishing Tips ARTIFICIAL REEFS RULE Posted 10/10/2010 Man-made fish habitat provides great fishing and diving opportunities close to home There’s nothing “artificial” about the great fishing and diving artificial reefs provide. Most coastal states have developed reef-building programs, but N.J. led the way with an aggressive private/public partnership program over 30 years ago. Today, the state boasts 14 major reef sites where once only featureless sand bottom existed. Altogether they encompass a mere 25-square miles of bottom, yet about a third of all recreationally caught fish statewide are caught on these reefs and the many wrecks sunk on them, which range from small tugs and barges to 400-foot-long decommissioned Navy ships. In fact, these sunken treasures have become some of the most popular recreational dive sites on the coast. New Jersey, like other states that followed its lead, located most of its reef sites within a few miles of the beach, an easy run in just about any craft. In 2006 alone, 88 percent of all the private boat bottom fishing trips were to these reefs. The reefing materials deposited on the sites include boats, ships, military tanks, subway cars, concrete rubble, dredge rock and manufactured reef balls. All of these materials meet strict EPA guidelines to assure they are non-polluting and durable. Most fishermen know that natural underwater structures provide anchoring points for everything from tiny worms and coral-like plants to shellfish and finfish. However, this kind of natural structure is rare. Most of sea bottom is comprised of flat sand, especially in the Mid and South Atlantic and Gulf regions. That’s where artificial reefs come into play. Reef materials quickly become densely populated havens for marine animals of all sizes and types. Studies show that 800- to 1000-percent more marine life is found on a reef than on the open bottom, and a single square foot of reef structure only four-feet high is quickly transformed into an anchoring point for more than 100,000 tiny creatures. Mussels, clams, crabs, lobsters, worms and shrimp colonize such a structure. One square yard of reef can hold 3,500 juvenile crabs from 1/16- to 4-inches in size. It can also accommodate up to 135 immature fish, providing them with feeding opportunities and places to hide from predators. Now, if you were a hungry sea bass, flounder, blackfish, grouper or snapper, and the majority of your diet consisted of small fish and shellfish, where do you think you’d want to live? As reefs become established, they attract baitfish schools and predators like king mackerel, amberjack, bluefish, sharks and others. Buy studies have shown that reefs do much more than just attract existing fish populations. Reefs expand critical habitat for many fish species, dramatically enhancing the environment and forage availability and creating the means for stocks of many species of finfish to actually grow and expand. Bottom fishing is one of the easiest, most stress-free and enjoyable types of fishing for serious and novice anglers alike. The sport also lends itself well to family-oriented days on the water. A few sinkers, some simple rigs and bait, and you’re ready to go. The question is where? There’s no place better than these artificial reefs. Coastal states with reef programs publish locations for these structures. New Jersey offers divers and anglers a free 60-page book, the Guide to Fishing & Diving New Jersey Artificial Reefs. Now in its third edition, the book is available as a free PDF download on the Department of Fish & Game website. It is highly detailed with charts of all the reefs, showing where vessels are located along with other types of structures. It depicts even areas that were developed specifically to enhance drift fishing. Reef projects are still being actively developed in many states in conjunction with private entities. In May of 2006, The Florida Department of Fish, Wildlife & Conservation worked with the U.S. Navy Reefing Project to sink the USS Oriskany, an 888-foot WWII-era aircraft carrier 23 miles off Pensacola. It is the largest vessel ever placed on an artificial reef. In addition, the state of Texas is currently working with a public/private partnership to develop the Texas Great Barrier Reef, a massive undertaking that would provide hundreds of miles of structure for fish like the Gulf’s red snapper population. The tiny state of Del. also has a very active reef development program, as does S.C. and all of the coastal states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. To find out if there are artificial reefs in your area, start by exploring the websites for your state’s fish and game department and be sure to check local fishing charts, too. Electronic charts available for most chart plotters include the boundaries of approved reef areas. Artificial reefs provide great fishing and diving opportunities. Do a little research, and get in on the fun.