Since its inception in 1984, Fish and Wildlife’s Reef Program has been very proactive in reef construction efforts. As New Jersey’s artificial reef network grew and the volume of materials deployed to create them increased, reefs quickly became popular locations for recreational anglers and commercial fishermen utilizing potting gear. However, as early as 1989, charter and individual boat owners indicated that the presence of fish pots and lobster pots on reefs was beginning to preclude access.
As reef building efforts continued into the 2000s, conflicts between recreational and commercial users continued to rise. Federal officials representing the Sport Fish Restoration Program stated that this situation must be resolved because anglers had paid for these reefs through excise taxes on marine gas and fishing tackle; one user group should not be allowed to dominate access. Following this admonishment, on April 11th, 2011, more than $250,000 in Sport Fish Restoration funding for New Jersey’s Program was discontinued for use in reef construction and monitoring activities. These funds were not lost, just redistributed to other Fish and Wildlife projects. It was further explained that once access to reefs was restored to recreational users, funding could once again be utilized for the Reef Program.
To alleviate these conflicts and ultimately restore access to recreational anglers, in March 2013, New Jersey DEP Commissioner Bob Martin worked with representatives from the recreational and commercial fishing sectors to develop a plan for balancing access on reefs located in state waters. Since that time, Fish and Wildlife staff has been working diligently towards implementing this plan. A component of the plan also includes the construction of a new reef where potting gear will be prohibited. In essence, the plan sets the stage for the future and will translate into more benefits for all reef users.
This edition of the Marine Digest has an article (see A Clear Revival for New Jersey’s Artificial Reef Program) focusing on the specifics of Commissioner Martin’s compromise as well as other beneficial proposed changes to the Reef Program.
Also directly related to our Reef Program and artificial reefs, readers will find an informative “how to” article on spearfishing in New Jersey. (See A Spearfishing Primer.) Spearfishing is growing in popularity; we offer insights and techniques for this exciting form of recreation. Recently, Fish and Wildlife added a new category to our Record Fish Program for “speargun hunters” to recognize their outstanding achievements.
New Jersey’s Reef Program is recognized as being the best in the nation; our reefs are second to none for spearfishing, scuba diving and fishing. In the Program’s 31 year history, more than 7 million cubic yards of materials have been deployed to create artificial reefs. These materials consist primarily of rock, vessels, designed habitats (reef balls) and other materials of opportunity.
In a study conducted by the DEP, it was determined that reefs accounted for 18 percent of all of the fish caught in marine waters. In other words, roughly two out of every 11 fish caught along the Jersey shore were caught on a reef — an amazing statistic! The future of Fish and Wildlife’s Reef Program is bright. We will continue to be dynamic in adjusting our goals and objectives to meet the needs of resource users wisely.
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.