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May 9, 2001


For more information contact:
Bill Figley at 609-748-2020

According to a recent survey conducted by marine fisheries biologists with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, fishing New Jersey's artificial reefs is becoming a popular pastime for many Garden State anglers.

"The time and effort the Division has invested in developing our ocean reef network is now paying big dividends for New Jersey anglers," said Division Director Bob McDowell. "The Reef Program is creating a valuable new marine resource that will benefit the state's marine sport fishing industry for decades to come."

As part of an intensive survey conducted between April and November 2000, Division biologists interviewed 1,055 private and charter boat captains and 1,012 party boat anglers to obtain information about their fishing activities. What they learned was amazing. For anglers seeking bottom species like sea bass and tautog, private boat captains went to reefs nine out of 10 trips and party boat captains preferred reefs one out of every two trips.

For New Jersey anglers, artificial reef fishing has been climbing steadily in popularity for more than 30 years. In 1970, considering only fishing trips for bottom species (such as sea bass, tautog and porgy), artificial reefs accounted for only 7 percent of the private and 3 percent of the party boat trips. With only a few artificial reefs in existence at that time, the vast majority of bottom fishing occurred on the hundreds of shipwrecks sunk by storms, accidents and wars along the Jersey coast. In 1991, however, following initial reef construction efforts, use of artificial reefs grew to 42 percent of the private and 20 percent of the party boat bottom fishing activity. By 2000, following extensive reef building, reefs dominated the bottom fishing action, with 90 percent of private and 47 percent of party boat trips targeting bottom species occurring on reefs created by the Division.

New Jersey's recreational wreck/reef fishing fleet currently consists of 5,401 private, 240 charter and 64 party boats. During the course of the 2000 fishing season, one-third of one million angler-trips targeted wreck/reef species throughout the state's ocean waters. In 2000, these boats caught an estimated 7.9 million wreck/reef fishes, with 4.8 million of these taken on the Division's 14 ocean reef sites. The most important species in the catch were sea bass (5.6 million), followed by porgy (0.5 million), tautog (0.4 million) and fluke (0.3 million). In addition, 25 other species were caught in smaller numbers.

For private boats, the Garden State North (28 fish per angler[fpa]), Sandy Hook (24 fpa), Wildwood (23 fpa) and Atlantic City (21 fpa) reefs produced the best daily catches (numbers include fish that were kept and released), while Shark River (7 fpa), Great Egg (10 fpa) and Ocean City (13 fpa) reefs had the lowest catch rates. The catch rate for bottom fishing on wrecks not located on reef sites was 24 fish per angler.

National recreational fishing surveys estimated the state's total catch of all saltwater species averaged about 27 million fish annually during 1979-1999. Thus, the reefs accounted for 18 percent of all of the fish caught in the state's saltwaters. In other words, roughly one out of every five fish caught along the Jersey shore during 2000 was caught on a reef built by the Division of Fish and Wildlife. This is a particularly remarkable statistic since reef sites comprise only 0.3 percent of New Jersey's sea floor.

With the study results in mind, New Jersey's reefs have come a long way over the past 15 years. Prior to 1984, Sea Girt was the only active reef site off the Jersey coast comprised of a half-dozen reef structures. Since then, the Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife has developed a network of 14 reef sites, stretching from Sandy Hook to Cape May, and constructed more than 1,300 fishing and diving reefs on these sites.