Marine life to flourish as N.J. plans sinking numerous vessels at artificial reefs

    The sinking of Joan LaRie III on the Axel Carlson Reef in 2005. (Photo: New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife)

    The sinking of Joan LaRie III on the Axel Carlson Reef in 2005. (Photo: New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife)

    An offshore artificial reef deployment program once temporarily halted is back on course after the restoration of federal funding, state officials announced.

    According to a release from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the state expects to sink up to 10 vessels throughout its artificial reef network following a compromise between the Christie administration and recreational and commercial anglers after a dispute over access to popular reefs. 

    The state sunk three vessels this summer, including the 65-foot crew boat “NY Harbor Charlie” yesterday at the Axel Carlson Reef just southeast of the Manasquan Inlet.

    “Artificial reefs create important habitat for many types of marine life, and attract fish that are popular with recreational anglers,” said Commissioner Bob Martin. “Our artificial reefs are an important part of the economy of the Jersey Shore because they are so popular with anglers as well as sport divers. We are grateful to all our partners in the recreational and commercial fishing industries for working with us to get this program back on track.”

    The program is funded by $39,750 from state appropriations and a donation from a firm that creates concrete reef structures and $119,250 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    The federal government had previously suspended funding following concerns that commercial fishing was hampering recreational anglers’ enjoyment of artificial reefs in state waters, according to the release. 

    The federal money comes after a compromise, allowing commercial and recreational anglers to have continued access to portions of two reefs in state waters off Sandy Hook and Manasquan and the construction of a new reef for recreational fishing in state waters, which extend three miles from the shoreline. 

    The state, which holds permits for 13 artificial reefs in federal waters and two in state waters, encompassing 25 square miles of ocean floor, funds the program through excise taxes on recreational fishing gear and motor boat fuel.

    Providing a habitat for a variety of marine organisms to grow along with food and habitat for fish and shellfish, the reefs are made of rocks, concrete and steel, and old ships and barges.

    “DEP studies have shown that these materials are colonized quickly with organisms such as algae, barnacles, mussels, sea stars, blue crabs, and sea fans that attract smaller fish which, in turn, attract black sea bass, tautog, summer flounder, scup, lobster and other sought-after species,” the release said.

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