Since 1984, the Bureau of Marine Fisheries has been involved in an intensive program of artificial reef construction and biological monitoring. The purpose is to create a network of artificial reefs in the ocean waters along the New Jersey coast to provide a hard substrate for fish, shellfish and crustaceans, fishing grounds for anglers, and underwater structures for scuba divers.
Artificial reefs are constructed by intentionally placing dense materials, such as old ships and barges, concrete and steel demolition debris and dredge rock on the sea floor within designated reef sites. At present, the division holds permits for 17 artificial reef sites encompassing a total of 25 square miles of sea floor. The reefs are strategically located along the coast so that 1 site is within easy boat range of 12 New Jersey ocean inlets.
Within each reef site, which range in size from one-half to over four square miles, numerous "patch reefs" have been constructed. A patch reef is a one-half to 5-acre area where one barge load of material has been deployed. In total, over 1200 patch reefs have been constructed on the state's 15 reef sites since the program began. Reefs are now being used extensively by anglers and divers who catch sea bass, blackfish, porgy and lobster.
Research projects designed to investigate the biology and ecology of ocean reefs completed during the past year included the food habits of black sea bass and the colonization of reef structures by blue mussels, barnacles and other marine invertebrates. Such studies help assess the effectiveness of reef construction efforts in providing habitat for New Jersey's marine life.
Reef Research - Ventless Trap Survey
The Artificial Reef Program conducts reef monitoring through a Ventless Trap Survey. Ventless traps (measuring 43 ¾" L x 22 ½" W x 15" H) are randomly placed throughout three reef sites off the coast of New Jersey onto different substrates. The traps are deployed and remain in the water for about five weeks every spring, summer and fall (see 2021 information). Each week, biologists tend to the traps and record data (such as length, weight, sex, etc.) on the different species that are captured before the animals are returned to the water. Once emptied, the traps are put back in the same location where they were pulled so data collection and sites remain consistent.
The benefited species (like black sea bass, tautog, summer flounder, lobster, and various crabs) are endemic to New Jersey but are limited in extent and abundance by the lack of hard substrate. Through this survey, we can determine how species utilize different material types and how they use the reefs during different seasons. Using the data collected, scientists are able to perform different analyses to determine the success and productivity of reef sites.