HARWICH — It doesn't take long for an artificial fish reef to turn barren ocean bottom into a thriving fish habitat. That was clear when the Cap'n Kid, a 50-foot party boat out of Saquatucket Harbor, began fishing over the reef created this spring 2.8 miles outside the harbor.
The reef was created three months ago in partnership with the town of Harwich and the state Division of Marine Fisheries, using $146,000 generated from DMF's recreational saltwater fishing permits.
The reef had been in the discussion and planning process for a decade when Captain Clem Kacergis of Yankee II, a 62-foot party boat also out of Saquatucket Harbor, started talking with then-harbormaster Tom Leach. Kacergis said he and Captain Paul Donovan went to the Seaport Advisory Council with the proposal, and the agency provided $40,000 to get the permitting process in motion.
Kacergis said Captain Donovan has fished the new reef and it was productive when the fish were migrating, but there was a lull, though they're expected to come back. “It's going to take a while to graduate to a working reef,” Kacergis said, citing the need for benthic community growth to inhabit the reef.
Kacergis often fishes a used tire reef built off Yarmouth in Nantucket Sound in the 1970s. He has also been fishing a location 10 miles south of Saquatucket Harbor and another two miles south of Point Gammon. The new reef will cut down on travel time and fuel expenses for the party boats.
Mark Rousseau, a DMF marine biologist and artificial reef coordinator, worked with Harwich Conservation Administrator Amy Usowski over the past couple of years to bring the new reef to fruition. The Robert B. Our Company built the reef using 1,600 cubic yards of concrete from the former Harwich High School and miscast catch basins.
The reef location was chosen based on research conducted by DMF which identified an area where the ocean bottom was devoid of fish habitat and provided a good location to construct the reef. The structure was built at a depth of about 32 feet and provides close to 30 feet of navigational clearance for passing vessels.
“The new reef is awesome, they did a beautiful job of laying it out,” said Captain Chris Pistel, who was at the helm of the Cap'n Kid fishing on the reef on Friday.
Pistel has a personal tie to the reef, pointing out he was a Harwich High School graduate, and a portion of the reef is constructed with concrete from the foundation of the school demolished three years ago to make way for Monomoy Regional High School. Pistel praised the construction of the reef, pointing to radar in the vessel that defines the ocean bottom and shows the reef structure extending in some sections four feet from the bottom.
“It was great the last time I fished it and it is going to get better over the next couple of years as it gets more growth out there,” Pistel said.
“Three weeks ago I was fishing on it and it was insane,” Cap'n Kid owner Captain Carl Schoote said of fish migrating into Nantucket Sound at that time.
Rousseau said in an email to The Chronicle this week that DMF has visited the new reef three times since deployment, initially to verify that the material deployed met permit conditions for height off the bottom. He said the site is a mix of large structures and scattered piles of rubble.
“We observed spider crab and horseshoe crab in the area, but no fish (too early in the season),” Rousseau said of the April 6 dive with water temperatures at 42 degrees.
On April 27 divers deployed temperature monitors and an acoustic receiver and selected a station for monitoring colonization. Cunner were observed. Rousseau said the most recent visit was on June 15. Prior to the site visit he said local fishermen said that they were catching bag limits for sea bass at the site. Rousseau said they did not quantify numbers, but they did note species present.
“Black sea bass, scup, tautog, cunner and sea robin were observed while diving. Sea bass were present in various sizes around most structures. We noted a barnacle set on much of the elevated concrete structures,” Rousseau said.
“I like that I caught my first fish,” said youngster Katrina Meixner, visiting from New Jersey and fishing Friday on the Cap'n Kid. She landed a legal size black sea bass. Her mother, Laura, and little brother Eriks working together landed another black sea bass.
Friday's trip yielded a lot of fish for the people on board. There were varying sizes of black sea bass, scup and sea robin at the end of many of the lines. One black sea bass, which slipped the hook before coming over the side of the vessel, was said to be the biggest the crew had ever seen.
The Cap'n Kid, a 43-passenger vessel, offers kid friendly two-hour trips from Saquatucket Harbor, mixing both education and fishing for passengers on board. The Cap'n Kid makes three to four trips a day during weekdays in the summer and two to three on weekends.
The kids get to place bait in a lobster trap, which is cast overboard on the way out to the fishing grounds. That trap is harvested on the return trip to the harbor and is usually loaded with spider crabs, which the kids get to examine before they are returned to the water.
The Yankee II does four-hour trips, two a day and one on Sunday. On Saturday they do a six-hour marathon fishing trip. Both partyboats have a ticket booth on the west side of the Saquatucket Harbor parking lot.
The new reef has been put in place for recreational fishing purposes, and the state has prohibited commercial fishing there. Pistel said on one trip to the reef, the area just outside the prohibited commercial zone was loaded with conch traps.
They were no longer there on Friday, but there were recreational boats fishing the reef. Pistel said the area gets a lot of traffic because its on the run to the 14 buoy. As the benthic community takes hold the reef will definitely grow in popularity, he said.