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Artificial Reef ‘Compromise’ Plan Approved in NJ; New Reef to be Built North of Barnegat Inlet

Fishing the Barnegat Light Reef, Aug. 2015. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Fishing the Barnegat Light Reef, Aug. 2015. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

New Jersey has formally adopted a plan that is seen by many as a compromise on access to artificial reefs off the state’s coastline, settling a years-long dispute between recreational and commercial anglers. The plan also calls for the construction of a new reef north of Barnegat Inlet.

The terms of the compromise were published in the New Jersey register this week, state officials said Wednesday. Under the plan, commercial fishermen will be permitted to continue using portions of two existing reefs in state waters, the Axel Carlson Reef off northern Ocean County and the Sandy Hook Reef off Monmouth County. Recreational fishermen will continue to have access to all portions of the two reefs, which are the only two of the state’s 15 reefs that are located in state waters. (Federal waters begin three nautical miles from shore.)

On the reefs, materials ranging from sunken ships to U.S. Army Tanks – as well as manufactured material such as “reef balls” – are used to build artificial fishing habitat. Anglers then use the reefs as a location to fish, but for years, recreational anglers have complained that commercial fishermen set up strings of lobster and crab pots on the reef sites, blocking them out.

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The federal government has also weighed in on the matter, expressing concern that the commercial pots were intruding on recreational access to the reefs, which are funded by excise taxes on recreational fishing gear and boat fuel.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, commercial and recreational fishermen will be permitted to use lobster, fish and conch pots on the Sandy Hook and Axel Carlson Reefs in specific “full access zones.”  Commercial and recreational anglers and scuba divers will continue to have full access to all parts of the reefs, including the full access zones.

In addition, commercial and recreational lobster potters setting and tending gear within the full access zones will be restricted to the hours between sunrise and sunset, and they will be required to call the state Marine Law Enforcement Headquarters two hours prior to doing so. Individual pots in the zones must be marked with a buoy. A string of pots must have a buoy attached to each end.

New Reef to be Built

A new reef, encompassing about a square mile of ocean floor, will be constructed in state waters in an area north of Barnegat Inlet for use by recreational anglers, the DEP said.

“The Division of Fish and Wildlife is working with a DEP Division of Land Use Regulation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in securing permit for this project,” the DEP said in a statement.

This new reef, officials said, will encompass roughly the same area as the portions of existing state waters reefs commercial fishermen may use. The DEP, in consultation with stakeholders and the Army Corps of Engineers, will finalize a site for the new reef.

“On behalf of saltwater anglers I’d like to thank [DEP] Commissioner [Bob] Martin, the Christie Administration, and the bipartisan support shown by legislators to resolve the gear conflicts occurring on reefs,” said Anthony Mauro, Chairman of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance. “The new reef rules are evidence that difficult and protracted problems can be resolved when unaffiliated groups with conflicting agendas concentrate on common goals instead of differences. Commissioner Martin designed a compromise that addressed the concerns of all parties and helped move the issue to a resolution.”

The DEP is currently working with the federal Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council for Special Management Zone designation which will allow the DEP to prohibit commercial gear on all 13 existing artificial reefs in federal waters. Federal waters begin three miles offshore.

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