HARWICH — The fish were flapping onto the deck of the Division of Marine Fisheries vessel from the new artificial fish reef constructed 2.8 miles outside Saquatucket Harbor last Thursday as state officials took a measurement of the success of the benthic structure built to create new fish habitat.
“I'm very impressed, it's verification of it working,” Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton said after landing several fish from the reef. “As soon as you're off the reef it shuts off and once you're back on it fish are on.”
Beaton, Dr. David Pierce, Director of the Division of Marine Fisheries, and several DMF staff members were at Saquatucket Harbor to celebrate the completion of the new reef funded with state and federal sports fishing funds. They were also here to visit and experience recreational fishing on the reef.
Speaking adjacent to the boat access ramp funded with state Department of Fish and Wildlife money, Beaton called the new reef a great concept and a great idea and he praised the town of Harwich for being an incredible partner in developing the reef. He cited the town's contribution in providing the foundation rubble from the former Harwich High School.
“I hope the graduates of that school take comfort in knowing part of that school is buried at the bottom of the ocean,” the secretary quipped.
Beaton cited the funding provided by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and in collaboration with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He thanked the saltwater anglers for purchasing recreational saltwater fish permits for $10 to provide the funds necessary for construction of the reef.
“It's an exciting project with great environmental benefits,” Beaton said.
Town Administrator Christopher Clark called the reef construction a great project, citing elements of partnership and flexibility in accomplishing it. He praised the work of conservation administrator Amy Usowski in bringing the parties together and the support of selectmen in moving it forward. Clark also praised the Robert B. Our Company for their low bid and willingness to provide additional concrete for reef construction.
Clark said this was a great opportunity to support fishing activities in Nantucket Sound with recreational fishermen coming out of Harwich harbors and having access to these fishing grounds.
Michael Pierdinock, a member of the state's Marine Fisheries Development Panel, cited the law enacted in 2011 to create the recreational fishing permit, allowing his panel to develop programs to improve marine fishing, conservation, marine research and public access.
The reef cost $146,950 to construct. Of that amount the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contributed $110,250 and the state provided $36,700. The reef was constructed by the Robert B. Our Company of Harwich using 1,000 cubic yards of concrete material from the former high school and an additional 600 cubic yards of miscast catch basins provided by the Our company.
Ron Essig, Fish and Wildlife Section Chief for the Northeast District of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also praised the partnership with state and local governments in “providing habitat and fishing opportunities that were not there before.”
Essig cited the Wildlife and Sports Fish Restoration Program and the law allowing for an excise tax to be placed on hunting and angling equipment and fuel and electric motors purchased by recreational boaters. Essig said the commonwealth gets approximately $3.5 million annually from the federal fund for such projects.
Emphasizing its use for recreational projects, Essig highlighted the Division of Marine Fisheries regulations put in place banning commercial fishing on and around the reef. The reef is just under 10 acres, but there is a 40-acre area there where commercial fishing is prohibited.
Division of Marine Fisheries Director Dr. David Pierce said the area around the reef is near and dear to him because he lives in Sandwich and he worked with weir fishermen in Nantucket Sound while he was studying at UMass Dartmouth. Pierce said he is very pleased with the progress in establishing the reef in the year since he became DMF director.
The reef provides an opportunity for fishing and for research, Pierce said, citing plans to establish a research agenda there, perhaps, he said, in conjunction with Monomoy Regional High School students. Pierce told The Chronicle afterward his staff would work with students there to develop marine projects for science classes.
“We'll work with the community,” Pierce said.
The DMF director also had praise for Captain Clem Kacergis of Yankee II out of Saquatucket Harbor and Captain Paul Donovan for their early initiative in getting the reef project rolling, winning funds from the former Seaport Advisory Council for permitting.
Pierce said this reef project has generated interest in establishing reefs elsewhere in state waters, including Cape Cod Bay. Mark Rousseau, a DMF biologist and artificial reef coordinator, said permitting would take about five years and they would look at several locations and narrow down site selections, including possibly in Buzzards Bay and the south side of Cape Cod Bay.
As for expanding the reef off Harwich in the future, Beaton said they'd gauge the success of this one, continuing to monitor it and take it from there. Beaton said this reef is “very impressive” and he certainly would support more of them.
“It's hard to argue there is not a benefit to it,” Beaton said after approximately 30 fish were caught while fishing the reef. The black sea bass, scup and sea robin were quickly returned to their habitat.
Pierce said the recreational fishermen he has talked to are very pleased, they've been having great success on the reef. Pierce said they will continue to monitor reports from fishermen and talk to them after the season to see what recommendations they have.
Rousseau said on Thursday he has learned from this experience, citing prevailing winds during the fishing season he would have located the reef in an elongated direction from the southwest to allow drifting vessel to moved along the reef and not be pushed off it.
Pierce said they will be placing more acoustic receivers on the reef to study site vitality and how the fish are moving around the reef. It will also relate the presence of other fish previously fitted with an acoustic tag, such as striped bass, black sea bass, cod and white sharks. There will also be more intensive study of the reef by DMF next year, the director said.