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DEP Plans Artificial Reef for Barnegat Inlet

In what’s being touted as a compromise, the Christie Administration today announced plans to build an artificial reef exclusively for recreational fishing on Barnegat Inlet, while allowing commercial fishing interests to access parts of two reefs off Sandy Hook and Manasquan.

New Jersey's Artificial Reef Sites (NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection)
New Jersey’s Artificial Reef Sites (NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection)

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection controls 15 artificial reef sites, two of them in state waters and the rest in federally-regulated spots. The plan allows the DEP to seek permission from the federal Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council to ban commercial gear on all 13 reefs in federal waters.

They’d still have access to the two reefs in state waters, while sport fishermen would have access to all 13 in federal jurisdictions.

DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife will be required to apply for land-use regulation permit and obtain changes in a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the project. State officials say the new reef will occupy about a square mile of ocean floor, roughly the same as those already in existence.

Old ships, barges, subway cars, rocks, concrete and steel have been used in creating the havens that are credited with restoring marine life and maintaining balaces in critical underwater ecosystems. The new one is expected to be designed and built within two years, and becoming fully productive in five.

The arrangement, according to DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, recognizes the value of commercial and recreational fishing interests to New Jersey’s economy. He pegs it at about $2,500,000,000 annually. Martin says it will also “..result in restoration of federal funding that is vital to a program that provides tremendous benefits to our state.”

New Jersey environmental regulators will ask the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service to restore about $250,000 in annual funding for artificial reef research, improvements and maintenance that dried up amid federal concerns that commercial interests were overpowering sport fishing on the reefs in state waters, which are funded by taxes on gear and boat fuel and supported by donations.

State officials say that the reefs have created their own niche in tourism opportunities and jobs, attracting divers as well as anglers. They estimate that commercial fishing in New Jersey pays $327,000,000 a year in wages for nearly 13,000 jobs and ranks seventh in the nation in retail sales.
Recreational saltwater fishing, according to DEP, rings up more than $640,000,000 in yearly sales, is tied to about 10,000 jobs and generates about $242,000,000 in yearly federal, state and local tax revenues.
Read all about the artificial reef program here.

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