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2009 Artificial Reef Fishing Survey

By Hugh Carberry, Reef Coordinator
Jennifer Resciniti, Technician
January 13, 2010

New Jersey's Artificial Reef Program is one of the most impressive in the nation, comprised of more than 1200 patch reefs on 15 reef sites. The reefs are within easy boat range of 12 ocean inlets from Sandy Hook to Cape May and have provided outstanding fishing opportunities since 1984.

The reefs provide structure and cover which attract fish on a largely featureless ocean bottom. Over the years various materials, including surplus Coast Guard vessels, obsolete US Army tanks, rock, tire units, concrete bridge decking and "reef balls" have been incorporated in the reefs. (See the Reef Deployments page for information on deployments since 2006.)

The best way for managers to assess the effectiveness of reef building efforts is to survey the anglers that use them. As part of these assessment efforts, the reef program included a questionnaire in the 2009 edition of Reef News for anglers to complete and submit. Reef News is an annual newsletter sent to more than 7,300 anglers and available online. The objectives of the survey were to assess reef building effectiveness and obtain other relevant data that would make us more efficient reef managers.

Artificial reef structure
Fully Colonized Artificial Reef Structure
(photo courtesy Herb Segars)
Click to enlarge

A total of 203 returned surveys were received following the dissemination of the 2009 Reef News. Survey responses indicated that the predominant user groups were individual boat owners and anglers who access reefs by fishing on a friend's boat. Party boat patrons were the third most prevalent user group. (See data)

Of the ten questions in the questionnaire, perhaps the most important to the program was anglers rating their angling success. Of the responses received, 54% of participants categorized their success rate as "good" and 23% indicated it was "excellent." The remaining 23% categorized their success as "fair" to "poor" (19% fair 4% poor). Given that a success day of fishing depends on many factors, including weather conditions, these results show unequivocally that New Jersey's Reef Network provides important locations for anglers to catch fish. (See data)

Program managers are not only interested in the good aspects of artificial reefs but also any negatives. Survey participants indicated that their strongest dislike (116 responses) pertaining to angling on the reef network is the presence of commercial fishing gear. These results are not unexpected given the volume of complaints about commercial fishing gear the program has received over the past three years. Losses of gear (24 responses) and crowds (20 responses) were the only other negatives reported by participants. (See data)

Survey participants were asked to quantify the number of fishing trips made to specific reefs. Responses indicated that the Barnegat Light Reef had the highest number of trips and the Great Egg Reef had the least. Surprisingly, the Townsends Inlet Reef, the newest reef within the network, had the highest recorded fishing trips of reef sites located off Cape May County. (See data)

Reef anglers utilize different methods to catch fish, including drifting, trolling and anchoring over structure. The exact method utilized is largely dependant on the targeted fish species, preference and experience level. Responses from the survey indicated that the predominant method utilized by anglers is drift fishing. These results are not unexpected given that drift fishing is the least labor intensive and can be an extremely effective technique to catch summer flounder and black sea bass. (See data)

When participants were asked to rank reef-associated fishes by order of importance, summer flounder and black sea bass topped the list (146 responses each), followed by blackfish (102 responses). (See data)

Participants were also asked to rank reef structure by order of importance. Vessels, rock and concrete were determined to be the most important structures, eliciting 137, 95 and 94 responses respectively. (See data)

The Artificial Reef Program staff would like to thank all the anglers who took the time and effort to participate in the Artificial Reef Survey. The results and comments submitted will figure prominently in our management efforts. We intend to perform future surveys to gain additional information on your opinions and concerns. Although participation in this survey was low (only 3%), it is hoped that future participation will be much higher - Remember, the more people we hear from the better and more comprehensive our survey results will be. Our subsequent management actions will reflect angler input. A full report of these results will be available in the 2010 Reef News, available this spring.


The links below open a window with a graph showing survey results for each topic:

Responses by Group
Success Rates
Primary Dislikes
Trips by Reef Site
Fishing Methods
Fishes Targeted
Structure Importance


Artificial Reef Program (includes links to Reef News)
A Guide to Fishing and Diving New Jersey's Reefs
Artificial Reef Locations
Artificial Reef Deployments
Reef Tactics for Black Sea Bass by Hugh Carberry and Jeff Carlson
Saltwater Fishing in New Jersey
Bureau of Marine Fisheries

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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: January 13, 2010