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GUEST OPINION: DEP Expands Artificial Reefs Without Looking at Science


The DEP has expanded its offshore artificial reef program by adding concrete forms into the ocean off Manasquan. The concrete is from a shipping terminal and was no longer needed. The DEP has said that these materials provide a habitat for a variety of marine life and are colonized by organisms like algae, barnacles, mussels, sea stars, crabs, sponges, and corals. In reality, the DEP is not looking at science before making potentially harmful decisions.

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“DEP’s expansion of their artificial reef program may have benefits in increasing fisheries. However, we’re concerned that it may not be a net sum gain because even though they attract fish, they also attract fishermen. This could cause overfishing and the depletion of our oceans. Fifteen years ago, DEP was supposed to complete a study to see how these reefs actually work but that study has never been done,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The DEP should be relying on scientific studies before making plans that may end up harming the environment.”


These artificial reefs are constructed from rocks, concrete, steel, and old ship and barge materials. They allow marine organisms such as algae to grow and provide food and habitat for fish and other aquatic species. If you are allowing fishing at these reefs, you’re targeting the fish in one area and this could lead to depletion in fish stocks. 


“Using materials like cement as artificial reefs can have a benefit, provided there’s no contamination. This is especially important since we’ve been mining the bottom of our oceans for sand to replenish beaches. Beach replenishments destroy biota, impact the shallows, and can even remove the sand mounts in the ocean that are natural areas for breeding. Artificial reefs could make up for that destruction, but we need real scientific studies to make sure that they do more good than harm,” said Tittel. “Whether or not these artificial reefs will help or hurt fish populations should be the first thing the DEP asks. They should not ignore this question before going forward with their plan.”


With all the beach replenishment going on and scouring of the ocean destroying fish eggs and biota, whether or not these reefs encourage stable fish populations or cause decline is troubling. We’ve been removing shallows and mounds for beach replenishment, which are significant for fish breeding grounds. That makes this issue even that more important because even more fish will go to the reefs and may possibly become overfished.


“We’re seeing overfishing happening in New Jersey and fishing grounds being closed. The DEP needs to conduct real studies into the benefits of artificial reefs because of all the beach replenishment and destruction of the shallows. This ruins breeding habitats and puts more fish into the reefs, leading to the possibility of more overfishing and depletion. Ocean warming is changing the species we have off our coasts and that needs to be part of these studies as well,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The DEP needs to get real input from environmentalists and scientists on how artificial reefs impact our fisheries.”