Manmade Reefs for Fisheries: From the Sea of Galilee to Subway Cars in Delaware and Oil Rigs off the Texas Coast
Popular Science has a recent post about a 60,000 ton ancient rock structure discovered in the Sea of Galilee. The structure of stacked basalt rocks is some 70 meters by 10 meters:
The site itself rests near a now-defunct ancient outlet of the Jordan River, an area that has had economic importance in the area since the Bronze Age. Due to various contextual details, the researchers suspect that the cairn was constructed sometime between the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE.
Finding fish swimming around the structure, researchers guess it might have been constructed to attract fish:
These days, the cairn sits about 30 feet underwater, surrounded by schools of tilapia fish. Which brings us to the researcher’s theory that this cairn is supposed to be an ancient fishery, a structure that attracts fish, making it easier to catch them and support a large settlement along the shore. Smaller fisheries have been found in the Sea of Galilee, so this theory isn’t as far-fetched as one might think.
An earlier post discussed the use of old subway cars to create offshore reefs offering nifty condos for fish (“Build Your Own Reef“) .
“Saltwater Fishing” in The Sportsman’s Guide describes these artificial reefs off the coast of Delaware that attract both plentiful fish and fishermen. The largest of these reefs has 1.3 square miles of underwater reef fashioned from:
dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers, a 90-foot sunken barge, a navy barge, and more than 400 old subway cars.
In this man-made underwater reef world:
schools of sea bass cruise from one subway car to another…sea bass also love to move in and around the open back of the armored personnel carriers. Big tog also hang out on the ocean reef sites…
Lots of Feds in the Fisheries
The Federal government has involved itself with regulating and subsidizing artificial reefs as a way to promote fisheries. Fishing is big business, so the Department of Commerce and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are involved, along with NOAA. Not wanting to miss the boat, the Departments of Interior, Defense, Transportation, Homeland Security and Environmental Protection Agency also play a role, along with state fisheries agencies, with further regulatory supervision provided by the Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, EPA again, NOAA, Minerals Management Service, and state and local government. Supplying coordination to the program and players is the Interstate Fishery Management Program of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the National Recreational Fisheries Resources Conservation Council. Yikes.
You can read about these organizations and the role they apparently play in dumping stuff in the ocean to promoting fishing, in this 2007 publication: “National Artificial Reef Plan (as Amended): Guidelines for Siting, Construction, Development, and Assessment of Artificial Reefs.“
The reef now supports more than 10,000 angler trips annually, up from fewer than 300 in 1997. And according to state data it has seen a 400-fold increase in the amount of marine food per square foot in the last seven years.
This has led to theft and sabotage of fishing traps and pots and the tangling of commercial pot fishermen’s lines with those of smaller hook-and-reel anglers. The rising tension has led the state to ask federal marine officials to declare the area off limits to large commercial fishermen. (Source.)
Why not privately funded and managed ocean reefs?
An alternative to federal tax-dollars sunk to create valuable reefs and fisheries that everyone then fights over, would be private investment for privately-owned and managed offshore reefs. People are willing to pay for the fun and food of fishing. And the process of paying can reduce the frustration, conflict and congestion caused by offering valuable resources too cheaply or for free. As with national parks, managers for these offshore underwater parks are having trouble discovering the right price to limit congestion and enhance enjoyment (plus earn profits to expand reefs and operations).
Michael De. Alessi explains in this Freeman article from 1997: “How Property Rights Can Spur Artificial Reefs Artificial Reefs Enhance the Marine Environment and Benefit Environmentalists and Recreationists.”
Texas Wants More Reefs
Not satisfied with vast amounts of onshore and offshore oil and gas, Texas wants more fish too. Texas governor Rick Perry says federal regulations to remove retired offshore oil rigs block new reefs off the Texas coast.
The 2010 directive from a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior requires offshore oil-producing companies to remove nonproducing platforms more quickly, within five years. —
Dale Shively, head of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s artificial reef program, said the directive’s emphasis is to get rigs out of the Gulf quickly, but the practical effect has been to discourage oil companies from participating in the state-run Rigs to Reefs program. That program sinks capped and nonperforming oil platforms to create artificial permanent reefs that can transform the often barren floor of the Gulf of Mexico into habitats teeming with marine life. (Source)
Federal regulations after the Deepwater Horizon spill are blamed for reducing oil rigs available for artificial reefs. According to one Gulf Coast Congressman:
Today, almost 2 years later, the crippling impacts of this program are already being felt, as several artificial habitats off the Gulf Coast are being destroyed, resulting in fish kills, reduced recreational diving, and damages to sport fishing areas
And the reform proposed for federal marine natural resource policy:
To address the problem, Apache and state officials want federal policymakers to modify rules to allow more reefing in shallow water and for the federal government to approve two large offshore sites that would allow for an expansion of the state reefing program.