Updating North Carolina’s artificial reef program

CorrespondentAugust 7, 2013 

The North Carolina’s Division of Marine Fisheries fully assumed implementation of the artificial fishing reef program in 1984, including planning, permitting, construction and maintenance.

“For much of the time,” said Jim Francesconi, coordinator of North Carolina’s program, “we were working quite a bit on the ocean reefs, but early in 2009, we had to make a switch to concentrate on inside waters.

“Part of that, and I think the greatest aspect of it, was a new demographic of users. People have been out in the ocean and have done very well and spent a lot of their life out there and enjoyed it, but some people are now looking more inshore, with a broad range of users. And the other thing is habitat. There are certain species that are very dependent on the estuarine waters, so we’re very heavy right now making reefs with an emphasis on the habitat.”

To fulfill this new mandate, Marine Fisheries has taken several approaches, including improving older existing estuarine reefs (AR 392), construction of new reefs (AR 398) and continued development of oyster reefs and oyster sanctuaries.

The New Bern Reef (AR 392) was initially constructed in 1983 by Craven County and NCDMF and lies just down-river of the Neuse River bridges.

The original 27-acre site was constructed mostly with 100,000 tires and some concrete pilings.

Increased usage and diminishing ability to hold bait and fish made it a good target for expansion.

“That’s a 63-acre reef site,” Francesconi said. “It was a tire reef, and the tires have done fairly well on that site. There isn’t a lot of energy to tear them up, and there was a little bit of concrete piling, but what we’ve now put on the site is 500 reef balls. That was a big project.”

According to Francesconi, the New Bern Reef holds plenty of silversides and some larger baits and has mostly wintertime recreational fishing activity for Neuse River striped bass.

One of the newest reefs (AR 398) has been constructed on a site in the New Riverfrom concrete materials recovered from the demolition and replacement of the Buddy Phillips Bridge over the New River along U.S. Highway 17 in Jacksonville.

“The first material (from the bridge) went down in December of 2010,” Francesconi said, “and that was about 40 percent of the processed material from the bridge. And when I say processed I mean it was broken. It was stripped of all the asphalt. They brought it down to the bare concrete.”

The reef was built in 7- to-10 feet of water or less and the mounds reach a height to about 5 feet below the surface and are arranged in a geometric patchwork pattern of small mounds.

“It produced fish right away,” Francesconi said.

“I guess within about six months, the first summer after it went down. Then in 2012, we put additional material down, the balance of it, and it’s been doing pretty good. It’s gotten real good reviews.”

Ricky Kellum, local New River trout fishing guide, gave two thumbs-up. “The reef has been great,” Kellum said. “There are lots of trout on it.”

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