Artificial Reef Program continues to construct new fish habitat

The Division of Marine Fisheries has been involved with the construction, permitting and monitoring of artificial reefs since the early 1970s. In 1985, the General Assembly authorized the Marine Fisheries Commission to establish standards and adopt regulations for the siting and use of the reefs. The reef program’s primary objective is to create a habitat that increases recreational fishing and diving opportunities.

Today, North Carolina has one of the most active artificial reef programs in the country, with 43 ocean reefs, ranging from one-half to 38 miles from shore, and 25 estuarine reefs, including 15 oyster sanctuaries. Sunken ships, bridge debris, concrete pipes and other materials create hotspots of marine life for anglers and divers across the North Carolina coast.

The reef program partners with several nonprofit organizations to coordinate regional enhancement projects. This often involves hiring marine contractors, securing staging areas and heading offshore to delineate the location for materials on reef sites. Once the project is complete, reef staff conduct multibeam and sidescan surveys on the new enhancements, which are added to an Interactive Reef Guide web application.

Some recent projects include:

AR 380

In mid-August, construction began on AR-380, a new reef in Bogue Sound near Spooner’s Creek. AR-380 was constructed using 96 bay balls, which were loaded from the division dock on the R/V Shell Point. These reef balls are approximately 2 feet high, 3 feet wide and weigh around 900 pounds. This reef will create approximately one acre of new habitat in the sound, in a location convenient to anglers in smaller vessels. These reef balls are designed to provide the greatest amount of surface area for their size, as well as protection for small fish, attracting the larger predators targeted by fisherman.

AR 381

Construction on AR-381 began immediately following the completion of AR-380. The reef is located across the channel from the Cedar Point Wildlife Resources Commission Boating Access. This reef received 50 division-designed and constructed concrete reef pods, reef ball-like structures that are approximately 4 feet high, 4.5 feet wide and 3700 pounds.

Construction of both AR-380 and AR-381 were funded by the reef program’s federal Sport Fish Restoration grant.

AR 320

In early September, the Artificial Reef Program sank the tugboat Fort Fisher at AR-320, about 7 nautical miles from Beaufort Inlet. The vessel is a retired 98-foot tugboat that worked at the Morehead City Port. This reef enhancement project was funded by a Coastal Recreational Fishing License grant awarded to the Eastern Carolina Artificial Reef Association, with the Artificial Reef Program serving as a partner. The sunken vessel provides new fishing and diving opportunities close to shore.